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School safety Al Behrman Elementary

The Baraboo School District's 2014 referendum financed secure entranceways at each of its seven buildings. The improvements are required to receive advanced grant funding through the Wisconsin Department of Justice School Safety Initiative.

In wake of recent shootings, Baraboo school leaders hope to capitalize on an influx of state funding to bolster security measures and improve mental health services at the district’s seven school buildings.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is preparing to distribute $100 million to public and private schools across the state in an effort to improve safety. The initiative came in response to the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead and led to a slew of nationwide student demonstrations that sparked a firestorm of political debate about school safety and gun control.

The issue is once again dominating media feeds after a gunman killed 10 people and injured several more Friday at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas. The death toll included eight students and two teachers, according to news reports, and was allegedly perpetrated by a 17-year-old student.

Hoping to prevent similar situations, state lawmakers passed Wisconsin Act 143 with bipartisan support in March. It created the DOJ’s school safety office, which is responsible for overseeing the $100 million grant program.

Baraboo School District administrators provided school board members with an overview of the initiative last week, along with existing safety measures and planned improvements. After meeting several prerequisites, District Administrator Lori Mueller said the district could qualify for about $140,000.

“The summary of our grant is really focused on two things: safety upgrades and communication tools for all of our seven buildings, and professional development for Trauma Informed Care,” she said. “That’s where we’re going to allocate our dollars.”

Advanced safety

DOJ grants will be awarded in two categories. The agency’s primary safety grants will focus on baseline improvements to buildings, including door locks and reinforcing school entryways. The other category of advanced safety grants will award funding on a competitive basis to schools that have met the minimum security thresholds.

The Baraboo School District built secure entryways at its facilities as part of a $9.95 million referendum voters approved in 2014. East Elementary School Principal Molly Fitzgerald said the renovations will improve the district’s chances of receiving advanced safety grants, which allow districts more autonomy to decide how money is spent.

“We feel like we’re working hard in that area, and we’ve met many of those goals or many of them that would apply to the grant,” she said.

To qualify for advanced funding, the district also must ensure each classroom door has a lock and that entryway glass at each building is reinforced with a special shatter-resistant film. Baraboo School Board member Sean McNevin said he’s skeptical of how the latter stipulation will improve overall building safety.

“So the state requires the safety film on the front door and the front door only?” he asked. “Not the glass window right next to the front door, not the side door, not the back door, not the windows — just the front door? It seems like they’re buying themselves a false sense of security.”

Teacher training

Teachers, aides, counselors and administrators also must receive a minimum of three hours combined training in Adverse Childhood Experiences and Trauma Informed Care before the end of next school year. The practice emphasizes patient comfort, safety, trust and empowerment to address distressing experiences, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The district also is required to partner with local law enforcement to ensure that proposed expenditures, visitor protocols and school safety plans will be effective and provide children with the safest possible learning environment, along with several other stipulations.

Mueller said district leaders have spoken with law enforcement and hope to spend about $5,000 of grant funding on trauma-informed care development, $22,000 on classroom locks, $60,000 on security cameras, $52,000 on two-way radios and use the remaining funds to create ALICE protocol posters for each building.

ALICE is an acronym to quickly remember steps to take in the event of an active shooter situation. It stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The district and other local public entities have held training sessions on the protocol for the past several years.

The district’s grant application is due June 8. The DOJ plans to release funds as soon as possible so projects can be completed before the start of next school year.

“As we move forward, this is what our plan will include and highlight: communication, looking over our safety plan that we have, and looking for revisions,” Fitzgerald said.

Follow Jake Prinsen on Twitter @prinsenjake

Baraboo News Republic Reporter