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Farmington parents fight for peace of mind

Amanda Kelting, Kristy Rhoades and Becky LaBeau founded Parents Advocating School Safety along with Jenny Madigan and Sara Soriano, who are not pictured.

When a gunman opened fire last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Kristy Rhoades had the same thought a lot of people did: I should do something.

For most, those thoughts were gone almost as soon as they came, but Rhoades is following through. As soon as she heard the news, the Farmington resident sent a Facebook message to several of her friends. She wanted to make sure nothing like the Sandy Hook shooting ever happened in Farmington. And she wanted their help.

"I was overcome with emotion and thoughts ... because I do have a kindergartener and an elementary schooler and it struck me as it did everybody," Rhoades said. "We need to do anything we can to get to the bottom of why these things happen or keep happening."

To do that, Rhoades and four friends have spent the months since that December day building a group called Parents Advocating School Safety. They have held meetings with parent-teacher groups at Farmington schools, and with superintendent Jay Haugen. They have also started putting together a plan for making it easier to find resources on issues like mental health, bullying and school security. The goal is not to correct a problem in the school district, they say, but to supplement school district efforts that are already in place.

For now, that means creating a website that can serve as a clearinghouse for information related to the group's current focus areas -- bullying, mental health and school security. Those are the areas that seem to come up again and again in cases of school shootings, they say.

The page, which is still in development, will have a link on each local school's page. PASS members plan to work with groups like 360 Communities to find the best possible resources.

Group members, all of whom attended Farmington schools themselves, say it can be confusing now to find information about those subjects on school district pages. Many of the issues PASS will focus on are covered in the district, but rules are enforced differently in different places. Group members would like to make things more uniform.

The group has heard from other parents interested in getting involved, but while they are interested in the additional help they are still figuring out what they want people to do. For now, they say, people should watch the PASS Facebook page for more information.

So far, PASS members are happy with the response they have gotten in the district. Parents and administrators have been receptive, they said.

"They realize this is an area lacking, and they don't have the time," group member Amanda Kelting said. "Everyone knows educators are overworked."

The group's goal is to have its website up and running within a few months, and certainly by the time school starts again in the fall. From there, they'll look to branch out. Current suggestions include bringing groups into the schools to talk about their core issues, or holding events to bring together parents who have similar interests and concerns.

They also want to help spread the word about events the district is already holding -- things like parenting workshops or a recent visit from Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, who speaks frequently about bullying.

"That was one of (Haugen's) concerns," Rhoades said. "They do offer a lot of things, but just I guess getting the butts in the seats."

Plans beyond that are a little less clear, but group members talk about eventually expanding beyond Farmington and using their local efforts as a template in other school districts.

Whatever they do, though, the goal will always be the same.

"We want these kids to be able to go to school and learn and enjoy themselves and not worry," said group member Becky LaBeau. "When you have things like bullying and worry about the violence and stuff, I think that interferes with that."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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