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An audience of about 60-70 parents attended a school safety public discussion held at Farmington High School Monday. Parents were able to to ask questions of School District 192 principals, counselors and police officers. The school district will use Monday's input in reviewing and updating its school safety policies.

Community talks safety in Farmington schools

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Parents of Farmington elementary students have one echoing concern when it comes to safety in the schools: unidentified adults in the hallways at their childrens' schools.

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That was one of the most voiced concerns during a public discussion on school safety held Monday at Farmington High School. Presented by the Farmington School District, the forum was designed to answer questions from parents, and to gather input on issues relating to school safety.

Superintendent Jay Haugen planned the public discussion after he, and principals from all of Farmintgton's schools, received questions and concerns following the shootings last month at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

Monday's forum featured a panel of Farmington school resource officer Andrew Van Dorn, Lakeville police officer Kevin O'Reilly, Farmington High School principal Ben Kusch, Dodge Middle School principal Chris Bussmann, Farmington Elementary School principal Ben Januschka and Dodge Middle School counselor Jen Hogan, with Haugen moderating.

The 90-plus minute discussion opened with introductions by the panel, followed by a question and answer session. The members touched on their experiences, and tried to share some perspective on safety in the schools.

"The school's objective is student safety. Their concern is for safety in the educational environment, mine is safety for safety's sake," Van Dorn told the audience.

In his introduction, Januschka talked about an incident a few years ago where he had to call a lockdown at the former Farmington Kindergarten Center. He had to call on a plan that had never been put into use. Although the situation was remedied without any harm to anyone in the schools, Januschka pointed out that even the best of plans cannot predict how an incident works out.

"Everyone makes split-second decisions, but they make them in the best interest of the children," Januschka said. "They made those decisions and it was important to give them that ability to make those decisions.

"A lot of times, the best defense is common sense," Januschka said.

Parents shared many concerns about safety in the buildings, but the one echoed most often was about seeing other adults in the hallways without the bright "visitor" badges required for people who are visiting the building.

School policy has long been that visitors are asked to stop in to the main office of each building and sign in. One parent from Meadowview Elementary School said he is concerned about the number of adults he sees in the hallways without badges every time he goes into the school. His concern prompted similar concerns from other parents, some of whom asked for a hall monitor to be stationed at the doorways inside each building. Van Dorn encouraged the parents that it is OK to take the initiative and approach strangers they see in the hallways to find out who they are and why they are in the building.

Another parent asked if there were procedures in place for parents to follow in the case of a school emergency, or if there were a place to meet if something happened in a school building. That question was later answered by Farmington police chief Brian Lindquist, who assured audience members that there are such places and plans, but that information is not made public because doing so could help someone who was planning an attack.

Questions about reconfiguring the elementary schools, allowing teachers to conceal and carry guns in the building, and hiring more school resource officers were put out for discussion. Parents shared stories about being able to walk freely around buildings without being approached by staff, and about going into offices where no staff were present to check them in.

All of the comments shared Monday were collected, and Haugen planned to review the conversations with school administrators in a staff meeting Tuesday morning. The forum was videotaped, as well, and will be available on the school district's website, www.farmington.k12.mn.us.

"I was just tickled with the response," Haugen said afterward. "Everyone here was so open in sharing their stories. We heard a lot of helpful things, a lot of different point of views... This was a pivotal night for us."

The next step, he said, is for school administration to sit down and look at what they learned Monday and build a set of immediate and long-term goals to address some of the concerns. School administrators will also take a look at the policies and procedures in place and make any necessary updates.

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Michelle Leonard
Michelle Leonard started covering the Farmington community in June, 1994. Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the Farmington American Legion Auxiliary Unit 189, and acts as the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 
(651) 460-6606
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