Student safety is a big responsibility and the Decorah District takes it seriously.

"They're extremely receptive in reviewing their security policies and procedures," said Decorah Police Chief Bill Nixon.

Nixon recently met with Decorah Superintendent Mike Haluska and District Technology Coordinator Kurt DeVore regarding prospective security measures. He and additional law enforcement officials also met with staff at each school building to go over specific safety procedures.

"We do periodically review these plans, but after Newtown (Conn.), I gave Mike (Haluska) a call because it seemed like a good time to look at everything again," said Nixon.

"Security is something you review on an ongoing basis and particularly after events."

Haluska said he has provided Nixon with a copy of the emergency plan for each District building.

"He is going to review those plans and meet with us Feb. 14 to discuss how we can better structure those procedures to create the safest environment possible," said Haluska.

Updating protocol

Carrie Lee Principal Cheryl Miller said the staff is constantly reviewing the protocol.

"We have created new documents and there are flip charts in every room in the District that have that information," said Miller.

Miller added she has had a number of conversations with Nixon, and law enforcement is present when the school performs its lockdown drills.

"This year we did them over two days: one as if the threat was outside the building and one as if the threat was inside the building. We practiced each separately," she said.

Miller said students are required to keep their phones in their lockers during the day and teachers are asked to only use cell phones if it is the only form of communication available during a crisis.

"We highly recommend no one calls out to family," she said.

Miller said a few procedures have changed since she started.

"Back when we began, we used to close the blinds. Now the police want the blinds open," she said, adding after the two days of drills, teachers were able to ask questions of law enforcement.

Emotional event

Miller added the procedure "can be emotional for teachers."

"They play out scenarios in their own minds. When you're rehearsing, you practice it physically. Hopefully, by going through the steps, teachers are more apt to react with less panic," said Miller.

Miller added the teachers rehearse each drill with the students prior to its implementation.

"We don't want to incite any fear in the kids. We explain everything to them first," said Miller.

"It's about trying to be calm and cool in that moment."

Confidence builder

Alysa Hanson, a fourth grader at Carrie Lee, recounted her feelings about the grill.

"At first it's not that fun because it feels like it's real. When you're doing the drills, it feels like it's really happening," she said.

Hanson said she felt it helpful that her teacher explained different scenarios that could happen.

"If we're in the hallway, we can either go to the bathroom quickly or into another teacher's room. And there are ways we can hide, either in a locker or in a cabinet," she said.

Hanson said even though the drills were a little unsettling, she and her friends felt better knowing the police were present.

"It felt like you were protected because the police protect everything," she said, adding she thinks most students took the drills "pretty seriously."

"I think it was good we spent a little more time on the drills this year and talked about them a lot. Because we talked about it, we felt more confident," she said.

Finding balance

Nixon said holding any type of drill is a "difficult balance."

"I'm sure it does produce a degree of anxiety in the kids because we try to make the drills realistic. All students don't react the same way," said Nixon.

Nixon said leading up to the drill, teachers pay special attention to those students they think may have trouble with the drill.

"We never surprise them with these and they always know in advance there is a drill. Teachers have prepped them, because we all want them to do as well as possible during the drill. Surprising them with something like this, doesn't necessarily help them learn," he said, adding, "You want students to be aware, but you certainly don't want to cause them harm."