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National Editorial & Columnists

Practice is best way to prepare for school crisis

New safety-drill law worthwhile

Whether you’re learning to chop an onion or escape an overnight fire, preparation and knowledge are the keys to staying safe.

That’s why a new law requiring schools to hold safety drills that include what to do during a possible school shooting deserves some applause.

In a story about the new law, The Associated Press said Illinois schools already conduct at least six drills a year, including for a variety of circumstances including severe weather.

The new law says law enforcement leaders also must include preparation for a potential shooting. The law applies to each school building where classes are held.

Fortunately, in many Central Illinois schools, various safety measures have been in use for years. In Decatur, security cameras and intercom/buzzer systems have been in place for more than 10 years. Many other school districts, including Argenta-Oreana, Mount Zion, and Maroa-Forsyth, employ similar measures.

Decatur Superintendent Gloria Davis said emergency operations plans are in place not only in each building, but in every classroom. Speaking in the aftermath of the December shootings at Newtown, Davis said, “Within each classroom, there is an immediate action guide that gives exact steps on what to do in a crisis situation.”

Emergency crisis topics are discussed at monthly faculty meetings, and a minimum of six mandatory drills, including exercises involving the Decatur police and fire departments, are completed each year.

School shootings have made front-page headlines since the awful deaths in Littleton, Colo., in April 1999. There have been other mass shootings in the United States including a parking lot in Arizona and a movie theater in Colorado, but it was a failed attempt in Normal that brought home the issue in Central Illinois.

Last September, almost 2,000 students escaped Normal Community High School when a 14-year-old fired shots during a health class. No one was injured, and the boy eventually was sent to a juvenile facility.

Our schools have a mandate in law and in common sense to make sure their students and faculty are safe, and that safety programs are set up appropriately. More important, students, faculty, parents, and police need to know how the programs work in case another incident arises.

After the Normal shooting, Superintendent Gary Niehaus noted several needed improvements, including a better way to reunite kids with parents, better communication among staff, administration and police, and the possibility of metal detectors.

Putting those lessons and others into practice is why the new law is welcome. Schools can’t plan for every eventuality, but they can practice for many of them.

While practice makes perfect, we hope none of these measures is ever put to an actual test.

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