The Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School District’s safety team met Thursday at Cortez Middle School with parents, teachers and administrators to discuss its plans for a potential disaster.
The district’s safety meeting came a week after two students were killed Dec. 7 when a gunman disguised as a student opened fire inside Aztec High School. Authorities say 21-year-old William Atchison, who also died, planned the attack.
“We stand together here tonight as a community because that is what it is going to take in the event that something should happen to our students or in our schools,” Assistant Fire Chief Shawn Bittle said.
About 10 parents attended the meeting alongside teachers who are also parents. Most of the district’s school board also was in attendance.
Jamie Haukeness, safety coordinator for the district, opened the meeting by thanking everyone for coming. He then showed a video from a shooting at Platte Canyon High School in 2006.
The video included a 911 phone call and a text conversation from the victim of that shooting, Emily Keyes, telling her parents, “i love u guys.”
Her family created a foundation in her honor called “iloveyouguys,” which provides school safety protocol in the event of violence or a disaster.
Re-1 uses the protocol as a standard for its own safety plan, though it is subject to change to fit the needs of the district.
“Our emergency operation plan is a living document,” Haukeness said.
Re-1 teachers have a condensed version of the plan so they know the action steps to take.
Haukeness and Vern Rucker, Cortez Police officer and member of the district safety planning team, gave a full presentation.
The four main objectives of the plan are, lockout, lockdown, evacuate and shelter.
Rucker noted that currently, Re-1 schools are in lockout all the time. This simply means all doors and windows are locked. Students also participate in two lockdown drills per year.
“Our kids are great,” Rucker said. “As soon as we go into a lockdown drill, it is probably 15 seconds, maybe 20 at the most. After that, you can’t hear anything,” Rucker said.
He also told the story of a second-grade class that he witnessed during a drill. The children were lining up on the playground, and some of them heard the signal for a lockdown drill before the teacher did and started their evacuation.
“We have taught our kids so well, the kids self-evacuated off the playground,” Rucker said.
He also talked about how important it is that parents have the discussion with their students.
“I would encourage you to have that conversation with your kid. What would you do? It is not a new concept to them,” Rucker said. “We started out with ‘hide and wait for someone to come get you,’ and that is not the theory anymore. The saying is, ‘run, hide, fight.’”
In recent years, the district has invested in radios that allow teachers to contact a 911 dispatcher with a click of a button, according to Rucker.
Deanna Bagge, mother of a Montezuma-Cortez High School graduate and a freshman, was impressed by the district’s actions.
“I came to the ‘iloveyouguys’ presentation three years ago,” Bagge said. “It really seems like they are starting to implement the system that they have now.”
She expressed concern, however, that an attacker could enter the school during its open lunch, which allows students to come and go.
Rucker told The Journal there is a safety procedure for allowing students to re-enter the school.
“That is something that they have had to address, but I do not want to go through that because that is a security thing,” Rucker said.
The Re-1 district safety team emphasized the importance of the “Safe to Tell” program. The program has an smartphone application that allows students to report suspicious behavior or incidents anonymously to a 24/7 service.
Local law enforcement responds to the threat immediately.
After the presentation, the board held a question-and-answer session.
One Lewis-Arriola parent asked about the district’s stance on teachers having concealed carry license.
A discussion of pros and cons followed with Police Chief Roy Lane saying he is not entirely comfortable training teachers to act like police officers.
“My main concern is, with a police officer, you spend so much time training them to come to the term that they may have to take a life,” Lane said. “How do you take a teacher or a parent and say if you take a life, how is that going to affect you after you take that life, or if there is an accident and you take a life that doesn’t need to be taken. How do you rectify that?”
In the end, the district agreed to continue discussing options, but that there were many possibilities to address.
The safety team holds its monthly meeting on the last Wednesday of the month. Their next meeting will be Jan. 31 at 9:30 a.m.