It’s been six weeks to the day that 17 individuals lost their lives at the Parkland, Fla., school shooting.
It’s a day Bloomfield Superintendent Shane Alexander likely will never forget.
“We were in a safety training when the Florida shooting happened and were with the guy who advises the president. His special phone went off during the meeting,” Alexander recalled. “That put a reality check in for us because we knew we had to come back and be prepared to practice for an event.”
That’s exactly what Bloomfield Community Schools did Wednesday afternoon — they practiced an active shooter drill and a bomb threat evacuation that included not only law enforcement and first responders, but it also included parents practicing the reunification aspect of an emergency.
While the school is keeping their emergency procedures confidential, Alexander wanted parents to know exactly where to go to find their children and what identification is needed. Parents went to the fairgrounds pavilion to pick up their children, where they were safely being cared for by first responders, faculty and staff.
Knox County Sheriff Don Henery said the drill went so smoothly and was so beneficial that he’s hoping other schools follow Bloomfield’s lead.
“I would love to see every school in the county do this and do it the same way Bloomfield did by utilizing EMS and law enforcement,” Henery said. “Shane and everybody did a heck of a good job coordinating this. It’s sad we have to do this, but in this day of age, we have to. We have to be prepared.”
Bloomfield Police Chief Bryan Ruhr said training is vital, no matter the topic, and people shouldn’t hide from the fact that bombs and shootings do occur. While statistically it’s unlikely that should would happen in Bloomfield, he complimented the administration for being proactive.
“You have to be prepared,” Ruhr said. “When an emergency happens, it’s better to have an idea of what to do instead of scrambling and being lost. This gives the teachers direction on what they need to be doing and to be ready.”
Bridget Kuchar, a Bloomfield parent and educator with Santee, said hearing gunshots in the school would be “one of my worst nightmares” and she “was hoping my kids never had to experience such a traumatic sound.” However, she said students need to be prepared.
“Our teachers need our support,” she said. “We have to practice these drills, just like fire and tornado drills, so that we can prepare our teachers and keep our students as safe as possible.”
Alexander said he and staff have attended countless trainings and have been using the I Love You Guys Foundation protocol for several years, which he said is free to school districts.
While the Parkland school shooting, along with many others, has made school violence a household conversation, Wednesday wasn’t the first time Bloomfield has practiced a drill that included parents picking up their children during an emergency.
“This was our second parent unification drill in the last five years, but we were so much more prepared for it than the last one,” Alexander said. “Now we bring everyone in to collect the kids in a safe manner before sending them home.”
Perhaps the most important part of the day occurred after all of the students were reunited with their parents. That’s when school officials, law enforcement, first responders and some parents met for a debriefing to discuss the drills. Most importantly, they talked about what should be done differently to improve the process.
“I can’t learn if I don’t get their feedback. I wasn’t back there at that door,” he said, pointing to the opposite end of the pavilion building. “I had a job at this door, so I can’t know how to get better and improve if I don’t listen to the people and get feedback from paras, daycare, teachers, office staff.”
Although it’s unknown when the next drill will occur, Alexander said the school will continue working for the safety of their students. They will continue training and continue putting students first.
“My biggest wish is that we never have to use any of this stuff,” Alexander said. “Maybe if we’re prepared for it, it won’t happen.”