Safety concerns topic of public meeting

Approximately 150 people attended a public meeting at the New Prague High School auditorium Tuesday, April 9, where school district administrators and law enforcement officials talked about the events of March 20 and 21, where a shooting hoax and a bomb threat at New Prague Middle School interrupted classes.

Superintendent Larry Kauzlarich opened the meeting first by introducing those on the stage at the auditorium. He then went over a brief timeline of what happened on those two days.

“We are learning things from what happened on those two days,” he said. “The police have made suggestions, and we have heard from a number of others with ideas,” he said.

Middle School principal Tim Dittberner talked about what happened during the shooting hoax. He said that the school holds practice code red drills mandated by the state, and his first reaction was that this was one of those drills.

“We’ve done these drills regularly for three years, and the kids and the staff knew what they were supposed to do and did it,” Dittberner said.

He added that there was a great response from law enforcement. “We had probably 40 law enforcement officials there, they all said we did a great job.”

After two searches through the building over about 20 minutes, law enforcement and school officials were pretty sure that the incident was a hoax.

“At that time, about 9:30, elementary kids were on their way in on the buses. Kauzlarich said. “We had a lot of upset people and we felt the best thing we could do was cancel classes for the day. We sent the elementary kids home and the high school and middle school went home about an hour later.”

He said the staff held meetings the rest of the day. These meetings amounted to a debriefing on the situation to find out what went well and what didn’t.

Police officer John Madigan, who is the school liaison officer, said that things went well during the Code Red situation. “The staff and administration worked together to make this go as efficiently as possible.”

“It was a reality check for the district, and we found out that for the most part, the Code Red worked,” he said.

Kauzlarich noted that the district did learn some things that they will be implementing in terms of communication to try to get information out to the public in a more timely manner.

They also learned that the time of day makes a big difference in how the district will react, and learned that phone communication becomes difficult as the district’s phone system became overloaded with calls from parents. He said the district will look at ways to make sure staff can communicate with each other.

Finally, he said one of the things that needs to be done is to set up a place for parents to go during a similar situation. He said FaithPoint Lutheran Church became a spot for parents to wait on that day.

People in the audience were given the opportunity to ask questions. Lisa Lehne, a parent, asked whether kids knew the severity of the punishment for making a threat. “My kids thought they would just get a three-day suspension. They didn’t realize how serious this was,” she said, and felt that kids need to have an understanding.

Brent Duncan, a parent, said he had concerns about communication from the district, especially with elementary students being sent home. Several others expressed similar concerns and Kauzlarich said that was one area that the district was looking at. He said they are looking at having emergency drop-off information for bus drivers to use by this fall.