School districts strengthen safety plans to align with new state requirements

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LINN COUNTY, Iowa (KCRG) - School districts across Iowa only have a few weeks left to meet a new state law for student safety requirements.

That law was passed last year in response to the Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Florida.

It requires schools to work with law enforcement to pass "high quality" emergency plans, and they have to do that by June 30.

With that deadline on the horizon, a few eastern Iowa school boards met Monday and discussed what emergency plans they have.

In the Cedar Rapids Community School District, something like it has been in place since the 1990s.

The school district said what it has now fits well with new state requirements.

“We didn’t have to do anything from scratch, so everything that we had, we had a good, solid foundation. So it was more, how can we tweak this to meet the state law,” School Security and Crisis Response Supervisor Eric Werling said.

Those state requirements include that schools need to have plans for both active-shooter situations and natural disasters, that drills are practiced at least once a year in every building on every school campus, and that plans are kept confidential from the public and updated and approved by the school board annually.

The Cedar Rapids school board approved these plans Monday with some new additions as well, including an expansion of the school district’s current response of “Run, Hide, Fight” to violence in schools.

“We can teach that to the students and the staff, so it’s a concept we’re teaching, so it something that they can take with them, even after they graduate and leave the district,” Werling said.

The Linn-Mar Community School District said it didn’t have many adjustments to make to align with the state requirements either.

But its school board also approved a new plan on Monday with non-required additions to bolster safety, including creating an anonymous tip line through an app for students who see something to say something.

“They can tell us bullying tips, harassment tips, anything they might see that’s suspicious, anything that they’re concerned about,” Executive Director of Student Services Leisa Breitfelder said.

Both Cedar Rapids and Linn-Mar schools said they’re already practicing their emergency drills more than the once-yearly requirement from the new state law.

“Any time that you’re in an emergency, your stress level and your anxiety just goes up, and so it’s in those moments that we want to practice and bring that anxiety down,” Breitfelder said.