Baesler to meet with law enforcement about school safety concerns
BISMARCK — State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said she and a group of law enforcement agencies, including county sheriffs, city police chiefs and the North Dakota Highway Patrol, are planning to hold regional meetings in the next few months to assess school districts’ safety needs.
Baesler met Friday with Col. Mike Gerhart, commander of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, and Donnell Preskey Hushka of the North Dakota Association of Counties to discuss how school officials and law enforcement agencies can work together to strengthen school security, particularly in rural areas.
Preskey Hushka is a government affairs specialist for the Association of Counties and director of the North Dakota Sheriffs and Deputies Association.
The Department of Public Instruction, the Association of Counties and the Highway Patrol plan to gather more information about school safety measures that are already in place, including which school districts have school resource officers and the training that is given to school district personnel. Gerhardt said the Highway Patrol offers training on handling an active shooter situation. Baesler and Gerhart have previously discussed having schools provide space for law enforcement officers to do the administrative paperwork that is often part of their regular duties.
Baesler said a patrol vehicle parked, even for a short time, at a rural school could provide a visual deterrent to a potential school shooter. Gerhart had suggested a possible Highway Patrol school safety presence to Baesler almost a year ago, during a discussion of school bus inspections.
Gerhart said Friday the initial conversation was about providing a common administrative work space in schools for any law enforcement agency to use.
Preskey Hushka said it was important for local schools and law enforcement to work together in strengthening partnerships and safety plans. A key element of that, she said, was to identify schools’ needs and the resources that law enforcement already provide.
Baesler said she has also been hearing from parents, school superintendents and other educators in rural school districts who have suggestions about how to improve school security. Gerhart and Baesler, as state officials, said the involvement of local officials, particularly sheriffs, police officers and school superintendents in rural North Dakota, is essential to the success of any strategy to promote school safety.
Baesler hosted a state Capitol meeting last week with the directors of the North Dakota School Boards Association, the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders – which represents school superintendents, principals and other administrators – and North Dakota United, which represents schoolteachers and public employees. The group’s top priorities are school training to identify potential threats, what to do with the information, and ensuring there is adequate follow-up; safety improvements to school buildings; greater availability of school resource officers, who are law enforcement personnel assigned to schools; and increased availability of behavioral health specialists.