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School safety program releases recommendations after Rigby school shooting

From the September crime report: Former lawmaker arrested, murder trial, stabbing sentencing and more series
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Shooting at Idaho middle school injures 3; student captured

Police stand with a youth outside Rigby Middle School following a shooting May 6, 2021, in Rigby.

BOISE — The State Board of Education’s School Safety & Security Program released 29 recommendations for schools after studying a middle school shooting that left two students and a janitor injured last May.

The program, which is tasked with reviewing and recommending school safety protocols at Idaho’s public K-12 campuses, interviewed personnel on the ground during and after the Rigby Middle School shooting to compile the report. Recommendations presented to the program’s advisory board on Monday span everything from improving emergency campus communications to coordinating mental health services after a traumatic event.

The report doesn’t delve into the reasons that the 13-year-old girl opened fire at the school. That case is currently winding through Idaho’s juvenile court system, which protects the identity of minors.

“This was a traumatic experience for everyone involved and we learned some valuable lessons from the interviews that we hope will help prevent future acts of violence,” program manager Mike Munger said in a Monday news release.

The first recommendation encourages schools to have some kind of well publicized tip line in place where students can report concerning behavior if they’re worried about a friend or a classmate.

Rigby Middle School students had seen some “concerning behaviors” from a sixth-grade girl before she carried out the school shooting, the report says — but no students reported those concerns until afterward.

One of the girl’s classmates saw a drawing of a gun and a school, the report says, and several students saw concerning posts on social media. Others noticed her change in behavior and demeanor as she moved from elementary to middle school. While Rigby Middle School did have a tip line, reviewers found it “was not emphasized to students” during the 2020-21 school year. New students — like the sixth grade shooter and her classmates — likely didn’t know much about it.

The School Safety & Security program has for several years marketed its statewide tip line called See, Tell, Now! that districts can use for free. After the Rigby shooting, the report says, that tip line received several tips from other school districts that prompted law enforcement to investigate other threats.

The report also recommends more training for teachers and staff on how to respond to emergency events. Rigby Middle School’s response protocol gave teachers some autonomy to decide whether to lock down or evacuate classrooms during an attack, reviewers found. While most classrooms were locked down during the shooting, one class was evacuated, and the fleeing students were shot at by the attacker. Students secured in their classrooms are typically safer than students in common areas during an attack, the report says.

“If we are giving staff options in how they respond, we have to equip them to make good decisions for choosing those different options,” Munger said on Monday. The School Safety & Security program plans to add additional training into a set of recommended response protocols to help teachers understand when to remain in their classrooms and when to leave.

Reviewers also found gaps in the district’s campus notification systems. Teachers at Rigby Middle School were not trained to use their phones to notify the entire school of a lockdown situation, so they spent minutes trying to relay the lockdown threat through the front office, the report says. Two of the school’s outdoor portable classrooms were also disconnected from the P.A. system, the review found. When the shooting moved outside, some of the students could see what was happening but had not been notified that the school was in lockdown.

The report program recommends that all staff receive the training and authority needed to initiate a lockdown and that campuses ensure that all of their classrooms are connected.

The report also praised aspects of the district’s response to the shooting. An existing partnership with law enforcement agencies meant that many responding officers were familiar with school emergency response protocol, the report says. Rigby also quickly reunified students and parents, and communicated to parents whether their students were safe.

Munger thanked the district’s staff and administration during his report to the advisory board on Monday.

“It’s all well and good to have someone come in after the fact, and it’s a hard thing to have them review the actions that you had no time to think about,” Munger said. “There are always things that we can learn. There are always elements that can be improved, and that will never change — but the commitment to keeping students safe was evident in every conversation that we had.”

A sixth-grade girl pulled a handgun from a backpack at her eastern Idaho school on Thursday and opened fire, hitting two fellow students and a member of school staff and inflicting non-life-threatening injuries on them, officials said. Gloria Tso reports.

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