Keeping central Wisconsin students safe
By Kris Leonhardt
CENTRAL WISCONSIN – While central Wisconsin students feel relatively safe inside area schools, many say that they’re aware of the potential for violence.
Wood County’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey numbers showed that 85 percent of students felt safe at school, while 23 percent believed that violence was an issue at their school – that’s nearly one in four students that view potential threats.
Those high schools surveyed include Assumption, Auburndale, Columbus Catholic, Port Edwards, Lincoln, Marshfield, Nekoosa, and Pittsville.
However, state officials are also aware of this potential for violence and are working to give communities the tools to avoid and handle such situations.
Wisconsin Department of Justice Office of School Safety Director Trish Kilpin said that state officials have intervened in plans by nearly 70 students to attack schools in some manner in recent years.
Speak Up, Speak Out
In June, Kilpin visited Wausau to work with central Wisconsin school districts to conduct violence prevention training.
“We cannot prevent violence from occurring alone,” Kilpin said during a press conference. “If parents, students or bystanders become aware that a child may be behaving in ways that suggest that they could engage in violence, then we need to know about that, and they need to trust us, so that we can assess the information and develop an appropriate plan.”
Through the department’s ‘Speak Up, Speak Out’ initiative, a tipline was created to report threats, violence, and self-harm in a more low-key manner.
Students, parents, school staff, and community members can submit concerns via https://speakup.widoj.gov or 1-800-697-8761.
Improvements to response
In July, the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of School Safety (OSS) announced grant funding which offered reimbursement through the Wisconsin Act 109 Digital Mapping of School Buildings program for 2022. The funding reimburses school boards and private school leadership for critical incident mapping, which provides a layout of school facilities for immediate access by local law enforcement. This provides officers and deputies with a layout of the school in the event of a life-threatening situation.
“Critical incident mapping data can help first responders get to the location of a critical incident as quickly as possible,” Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said in response to the release of funding.
Wisconsin’s Act 143 required school boards and private school leadership to submit blueprints of the school, but Act 109 amended it to allow for critical incident mapping data.
“State law requires each school board and the governing body of each private school, to have a school
safety plan in effect, and to review and approve that plan at least once every three years after it goes into effect. Upon creating the plan, and upon each subsequent review, the board or governing body must submit a copy of the most recent blueprints of the school to the local law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the school and to the Office of School Safety (OSS) at the Wisconsin Department of
Justice (DOJ). The OSS must coordinate with schools to compile and keep confidential all blueprints,
unless a law enforcement agency requests access,” a Wisconsin Legislative Council memo stated.
The legislative actions ensure that first responders to school situations are able to pinpoint locations within the buildings, as well as the surrounding areas.
School Staff Training
In the Stevens Point School District, district officials and staff have taken resources from the” I Love U Guys Foundation” and implemented them in their facilities.
“The founders, their daughter was killed in a school shooting in 2006. They literally quit their jobs and started a foundation,” explained Chris Budzinski, Stevens Point school district facilities & safety manager.
“Essentially their mission statement is ‘to restore and protect the joy of youth through educational programs and positive actions in collaboration with families, schools, communities, organizations, and government entities,’ to make sure schools are prepared for any sort of response – anything from a chlorine spill…to the worst case scenario.
“So it’s just a powerful moving story that started it. One of the other founders, four of her kids were in Sandy Hook when that happened. So, it’s really an experienced foundation that was put together across the United States (with) programs that are free to users, being schools, churches, communities, all sorts of things. What to do in case of tragedy, or just regular response.
“They’ve already invented the wheel. Let’s just start using what they’ve got.”
For several years, Standard Response Protocols have been in place in the Stevens Point school district.
“Standard Response Protocol is really action based. It’s what schools should use in case of a variety of things. There are five steps,” Budzinski explained. “They have a ‘hold,’ which is essentially you’d stay in your room and get out of the hallways. You’d use this if, say, someone was having a medical emergency in the hallway. Well, you don’t want other people around; it’s kind of a private matter. You just have people go into response, stay in your classroom, no big deal business as usual.
“Then they have a ‘secure,’ which is kind of the second level of turning up a notch, like there’s probably, say, there’s crime happening around the school. It doesn’t affect the school, but you just don’t want people outside. So you go inside the building, make sure everything’s secured. All your doors are locked. Business back as usual, just doing school; but, you’re back in the school. There’s just something outside the building affecting it.
“So, the next level is lockdown, if there’s a threat inside of the school, you go into a lockdown, which is literally locked door lights out; you know, get out of sight of the door and sit there and wait.
“Then, they also have another action level which is ‘evacuate,’ which is something like a leak in the water main at the school and it’s starting to flood. Then you’d evacuate the school or during the event of say an active shooter, you know, if you have a chance to get out of the building go. They talk about self evacuation, stuff like that.
“And the last one is ‘shelter,’ which would be some sort of weather phenomenon. Say, a tornado coming you need to shelter in place, stuff like that.
“So that’s kind of the breakdown of the standard response protocol. It’s action based on what you’ve got to do based on just five actions.
The schools implement the protocol twice a year, just like a fire drill.
“My goal is five years from now it’s just second nature,” Budzinski explained.
New for the upcoming school year is the Standard Reunification Method.
“Reunification is the second part,” Budzinski said. “What do you do in case of some sort of emergency? How do you get students reunited back with their families?
“How do you make sure students are back with the right parents? That’s pretty easy if you’re doing it at the school, but if you’ve got to evacuate the building and say there’s seven teachers overwhelmed by like chlorine and all sudden they’re not with it.
“The district office is going to be executing this reunification plan to make sure kids get with their parents… it’s a big drawn out process, but it’s the right path to go through to make sure everybody is accounted for and reunited with the right people.
“Some of the stuff you can’t control. We can control this part, so let’s do it. No matter the nature of what happens, we know we can put a process together to calm what we can.
“It’s split seconds that saves time.
“I think that one of our biggest gains this year is really putting a new emphasis in partnering with local law enforcement, first responders and having those relationships kind of figure out let’s get those back on track, making sure we’re working well together.
“So, we just want to make sure in community that we’re all working together towards the same goal of keeping kids and staff and everybody in the community safe. Isn’t that what we all want in life is to be safe, left alone to prosper and love our neighbors?