Schools are ready for crisis

Though Kathlynn Shepard and a fellow student weren’t abducted from their Southeast Webster Grand Elementary campus, Fort Dodge schools have in their crisis plan protocols for dealing with this very event.

First, procedures are in place to identify unknown visitors at any school. An incident May 10 at Butler Elementary, when an unidentified person approached two students in his vehicle asking for help to find his puppy, was met with an immediate staff response.

“They’re constantly on alert for someone that doesn’t fit in,” Marcy Harms, Fort Dodge Community School District director of student services, said. “They knew it right away when that car pulled up and someone tried to lure someone in with puppies.”

In such an incident, district administration and local police are contacted right away.

“Police are called immediately, the superintendent is called immediately, and if necessary the school is put into lockdown,” Harms said.

A thorough process is in place to prevent adults from taking students by posing as their parents or guardians, as well.

“If a person walks in off the street and tries to check out a child, that wouldn’t be allowed,” Harms said. “(The staff) know who’s on the list for who to be released to. It’s the same in a bus situation. If someone shows up at a bus station to pick up so-and-so, that is not ever allowed unless it’s been confirmed through the transportation office and a parent is contacted. And we asked for an ID to see if it’s truly the person.”

If a student is, in fact, abducted from campus, staff are trained to collected as many details as possible and work with local police.

“We have to take notes immediately. We have to contact the guardian,” Harms said. “We will identify when the student was last seen, get a description of the clothes, names of any friends, a description of the suspect or vehicle. We’d make sure we have a recent picture of the student, provide that to the police. Just write down anything you can remember immediately.”

St. Edmond Catholic School, too, has safety protocols in place.

“We have procedures, what to do in the event of a situation like that,” Tom Chalstrom, executive consultant, said. “Hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but we do have procedures in case it comes to that.”

Even a routine telephone request that a parent needs a child released from school is thoroughly scrutinized.

“We have procedures about how we confirm the identity of the caller before that child is permitted to leave,” he said.

Plans are also in place and practiced in the event of a lost child.

“If we determine a child is lost, there are procedures in notifying the authorities, the family members, finding out who will deal with the crisis, the point of contact,” Chalstrom said. “Searching the grounds, that’s all part of that process.”

Chalstrom said safety of its students is the greatest priority at St. Edmond.

“It’s our most important concern for all of our students to feel safe,” he said. “We have a safe environment, we practice our procedures on a regular basis, we coordinate with local law enforcement and emergency personnel. By all means this is a safe environment for kids.”

According to Harms, the Fort Dodge school district is, in fact, a safe place.

“I believe it’s as safe as it can be.”