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Brainerd School District confident in safety

Little more than one week has passed since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people — 20 of them children – dead. The shock and evil behind it seems to have forced many to ask and wonder why.

Why did the shooter, identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, do this?

Why do these things happen?

And why should our children have to be afraid to go to school with the potential of this happening anywhere?

School shootings in the United States date back to the early 1900s with an apparent increase in the 1990s and 2000s, including the attack at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. in 1999 and on an Indian reservation in Red Lake in 2005. The shooting at Sandy Hook is the second deadliest school shooting in the United States, behind the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.

There are video camera installments, metal detectors, immediate text message and calling alerts along with a slew of other precautions taken by many school districts across the country to keep schools safe.

Still, it all raises another question; how safe are our schools in Brainerd?

“We hope we are doing everything with our student relationships and parent relationships to keep the unthinkable away from us,” said Brainerd School District Superintendent Steve Razidlo. “And we work hard to maintain a very active and appropriate relationships with the law enforcement. We have cross law enforcement in different jurisdiction with Brainerd (police), Baxter (police), Nisswa (police), Crow Wing County Sheriff’s and even Minnesota State Patrol.

“I don’t know that a line of communication was going to be helpful in Sandy Hook, I don’t know that at all, but I do know that we are working our best to keep those ongoing relationships in hopes of preventing it the best we can.”

With 10 schools in the district — Riverside Elementary, Nisswa Elementary, Lowell Elementary, Harrison Elementary, Garfield Elementary, Baxter Elementary, Forestview Middle School, Brainerd High School, Lincoln Education Center and ISD181 Learning Center — Razidlo said he also likes to make sure that police teams know the layout of each building, with focus on drills in training at each school.

Beyond preparing just with local law enforcement, Razidlo said the district also has its own crisis protocol review, which he said was updated in the past few weeks, and following the incident in Newtown.

“We talk about updates and building crisis plans,” he said. “And every year it seems to me that there have been both subtle and sometimes significant changes to our crisis manual and crisis plans.”

Razidlo said the plans are more comprehensive than just protecting from intruders, but include plans for natural disasters as well.

He added that many of the plans and changes made are due to the state of Minnesota’s changes across all districts, showing how the safety of school drills have changed since the rise of school shootings.

“There are required drills and practices that over time we have seen at the state level change,” said Razidlo. “We used to have a requirement of nine fire drills and one intruder drill. Now we have a requirement of five intruder drills and five fire drills, so there is a shifting balance there in the past 10 years that show where school safety is focusing on.”

Changes have been made in buildings in the district with more locked doors, something that Razidlo said is likely to even further increase following Sandy Hook. He added there are still some concerns with the amount of unlocked doors at some of the buildings with odd exits, like Baxter Elementary, and said it is something that has now been back into safety discussion in light of the recent tragedy.

And its that constant discussion and communication that Razidlo emphasized is the district’s main safety goal.

“We like to believe that we continue to do planning and preparation with students and teachers over and over again to prepare against a tragedy that might come from a student or family,” said Razidlo. “It’s a balance point of living in a state of threat and fear and trusting our families and our public. Again it’s that communication, knowing to talk to us (school officials and officers) in time to do something.

”Kids talking can save a situation and that open communication should be a part of every community safety plan.”

JESSI PIERCE, staff writer, may be reached at 855-5859 or Follow her on Twitter at (@jessi_pierce).