DeWitt High School threat puts safety precautions to the test

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A threat written on the wall of a boys’ bathroom at DeWitt High School sent students home early Oct. 4.

The experience has forced administrators to reflect on the efficiency of the high school’s safety precautions and protocols in an era of frequent school shootings and threats.

Police are unable to share the threat’s message at this time as the investigation into the culprit is still open. DeWitt Township Chief of Police Mike Gute said he has “high hopes in solving” the case.

“I think that getting an investigation done and submitting to a prosecutor’s office is closure for the district,” Gute said. “The ultimate goal is to find out who did it and what kind of help do they need … Getting them the help they need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

DeWitt High School Principal Jody McKean said the evacuation went “extremely well” based upon feedback given by the five police agencies that were involved that day.

Gute said all the students were efficiently evacuated through one entrance while all other entrances were ceiled off. 

“I was very impressed with the orderly fashion that the building was released,” Gute said. “I was impressed with the politeness of the students. I mean everybody was [saying] ‘thank you’ and [were] very appreciative of what we were doing.

“It was not chaotic. It went very well.”

Gute said all students were off-site within 30 minutes. All other schools remained open that day, and students returned to classes the following Monday.

“You know, it was something that we hadn’t done before,” DeWitt Public Schools Superintendent John Deiter said. “But it was something we had prepared for.”

In an era when the threat of an attack is a very prominent issue of concern in schools, Deiter said schools must rely on good protocol and communication to respond.

“When we have an incident like this, we evaluate it to see what we can do better the next time,” Deiter said. 

Deiter added that improvements should be aimed at making sure all students are accounted for “as much as anything.”

“It probably just has more to do about communication than anything at this point,” he said.

McKean said communication is something that DeWitt High School administrators had already been looking at improving.

“Is there an app or some method of communication that we can use for all parties?” McKean said. “And when I say all parties, you know: staff in the classroom, staff as far as liaison officers and some of the first responders. What are some of the ways that we can just mainstream some of those things?”

Another factor to improving communication involves alerting parents to the facts of the crisis as soon as administrators are able to, McKean said. Unfortunately, there is often a lot of misinformation being shared between students and parents in the heat of the moment.

“You’re always going to be second guessed on social media from those people who don’t really understand what took place,” he said.

Gute said students attending DeWitt Public Schools are taught from a young age the ALICE system by a resource officer. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. These are steps students are meant to take in a situation like the one on Oct. 4.

“Each school has its own way that they’re dealing with these issues,” Gute said. “Some schools, you know, they have full-time school resource officers. Some schools have, you know, barricades for each door. Everywhere is dealing with things differently. And I mean, let’s face it, a lot of it has to deal with budgets and money and grants and things like that.”

DeWitt High School is undergoing changes to meet the kind of criteria Gute is talking about. The high school’s main entrance is and was under construction on that day.

“The main reason for that is to have that secure entrance and exit,” McKean said. “When you’re talking about defense, I mean I guess we take it from the standpoint of, or the approach of really, emphasizing positive relations with the students.”

McKean recognizes the importance of physical barriers as well.

“How do we have things set up where we can prevent these things from happening?” McKean said. But then also kind of respond to them, such as [having] like maybe metal detectors or bullet proof glass or those types of like physical barriers or things in place.”

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