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DOE: Lock down best way to keep kids safe at school

By Andrew Pereira
Published On: Jan 28 2014 09:08:00 PM HST

Like many of the 288 public schools across the state, Roosevelt High School is a wide open campus, a layout that has shaped the DOE's policy on school safety and security. KITV4's Andrew Pereira has more on school security in light of the shooting at Roosevelt High School.

HONOLULU -

A police shooting at Roosevelt High School Tuesday may lead some to question whether the Department of Education is doing enough to keep intruders out of the state’s 288 public school campuses.

Click here to watch Andrew Pereira's story.

According to police, a 17-year-old student attacked three police officers at the school with a kitchen knife as they attempted to take the boy into custody as an “outstanding runaway.” Two of the officers were allegedly punched by the student, while a third officer was slashed across the chest. During the scuffle in a counselor’s office, one of the officers fired two shots, striking the boy once in the wrist.  The student was taken to a local hospital in serious condition, and the officers were treated at the scene.

Like most schools in Hawaii, Roosevelt doesn’t depend on metal detectors or other security devices to keep kids safe. Instead, the school attempts to react to unfolding situations in a way that minimizes danger to students and staff. As soon as shots were fired, Roosevelt went into immediate lockdown and began notifying parents of the situation through its mass messaging system. During a lockdown, teachers and students are told to shelter in place, shut of lights, cover windows and lock all doors.

From all accounts, administrators at Roosevelt followed all procedures and put into practice what had been covered during drills and dress-rehearsals for years.

"They did an excellent job, (and) I want to commend all the administrators, staff as well as the students," said Mark Behrens, the DOE’s director of Safety, Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Sen. Jill Tokuda, who chairs the Education Committee, also commended the high school for its response.

“Everyone came together, (and) responded as a team," she said.

Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said Roosevelt students were sent home because police were continuing their investigation into the alleged assault by the student who was shot.

"Students were released from school because a significant portion of the campus was a crime scene,” she told KITV4. “So, there was an orderly dismissal of students onto the football field and parents were notified."

Instead of spending untold dollars to transform Hawaii’s public schools into virtual fortresses, Behrens says the key to school safety and security is to build a relationship with law enforcement and the community that surrounds each school.

"It's the school, it's the students, it's the parents, it's the churches, the businesses and our first responders,” said Behrens. “For schools to be as safe as they can be, it’s a community effort."

"It's not just about going out there and putting money at a problem,” added Tokuda, “it's really about looking at those best practices."

Under DOE policy, each school principal decides how much to spend on security equipment, such as two-way radios and surveillance cameras. Principals also decide how many security personnel they hire.

"The high schools have more than the middle schools and high schools can number anywhere between eight and nine (security personnel), to four and five," said Behrens.

Any student who brings a gun onto a public school campus is suspended for not less than one calendar year. A student bringing a knife on campus can be excluded from school for up to 92 school days.

Even with Tuesday’s incident at Roosevelt, Hawaii is still am among a few states to never have experienced an active shooter scenario at a public school.

“This is a legal shooting, it’s not an active shooter,” said Behrens. “It’s nothing close to that kind of incident.”

The unidentified boy who was shot was arrested on three counts of attempted murder, according to police. 

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