In wake of gun violence, local Catholic high schools review safety measures

| March 8, 2018 | 0 Comments

Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul dealt with copycat effects in the weeks following a tragic shooting at a Parkland, Florida, school in February.

CDH administrators addressed a rumor of a threat the week of Feb. 18. Frank Miley, CDH president, said students brought it to their attention.

“We took it very seriously, and we involved the St. Paul Police,” he said. “We made a decision to have school that day because there was no [credible] threat. For precaution, we had the police in the building and in the neighborhood so that people felt more secure.”

While the rumor never materialized into a real situation, it’s a reminder that Catholic schools are not immune to the shooting tragedies that have occurred in their public school counterparts.

Frank Miley

“Kids really are on high alert,” Miley said. “They share information with us [the administration], and we really encourage them: ‘If you’re getting information from out in the community or on social media, you share that with us.’”

Since the Florida shooting in which 17 people were killed, at least 10 Minnesota schools, including public high schools in Minneapolis, Rosemount, Orono and Cambridge, have addressed threats of violence. Potential school shooting incidents have been a concern since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

At Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, “safety is our utmost concern,” said Principal Jeb Myers. The school is hiring an organization to review and help improve its safety procedures, he said.

It is already among a number of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that use the ALICE Training Institute. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The Ohio-based organization provides safety training for schools, churches, businesses and government entities around the country. “It’s basically an updated way of thinking about how to respond to emergencies like a school shooting,” said Sue Skinner, principal of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School in St. Louis Park, which also uses ALICE. “It used to be one way: You just locked down and that was it. And now with ALICE, they have options.”

Part of that is a communications and strategy plan.

“We provide more information to people, real time information, and we train people to think about what they would do,” Skinner said.

Besides emergency plans, Catholic schools have regular safety measures in place such as locked doors to the outside during the school day. Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield plans to install an additional locked buzzer system. Mark Melhorn, assistant principal, said it adds more security and allows a staff member to see who is coming into the building before allowing that person in.

Some schools have outside safety staff involved. BSM has a full-time St. Louis Park police officer on site. Besides monitoring the halls and keeping the administration informed about safety, he presents in classes.

“He knows our students,” Skinner said. “It provides another level of expertise in our building.”

Cristo Rey Jesuit works with the Minneapolis Police Department to protect its students when they’re off-campus for the school’s Corporate Work Study Program. That includes safety training for students who use the transit system. The students also receive safety training at their various work sites.

“We talk to our students about constantly being mindful … that they need to be aware of their surroundings and put themselves in safe [situations] or keep themselves in safe situations,” Myers said.

Communication is paramount, Miley said. He wants CDH students to be able to report anything suspicious at any time. Skinner added that strong relationships also keep a school safe. Teachers, guidance counselors and students can address issues well before anything could turn into a scenario leading to gun violence.

“When you think about it, most school shootings involve somebody known by the school,” Skinner said. “Most of them, somebody knew something beforehand.”

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Category: Local News