INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Washoe County School District’s police chief has a message for parents after Monday’s shooting at Sparks Middle School — talk to your children about what happened so they learn the truth from people they trust.
And the biggest underlying message parents should stress? Make sure your kids know it’s OK to speak up and talk to an adult or school official if they see something wrong.
“That’s why we have secret witness and put a focus with building a rapport with students, because the school is their community. It’s their second home,” said chief Mike Mieras. “For parents to have those conversations and explain … to children that what they read on social media, what rumors are out there … it’s not the reality.
“To sit down and be a part of a child’s life where you have that open dialogue, the kids then can take an active role.”
In a Wednesday interview, Mieras discussed security measures in place throughout the district — including at Incline high, middle and elementary schools — two days removed from the nearby shooting that rejuvenated national debates about gun control and refreshed horrid memories of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last December in Newtown, Conn.
Around the time of morning bell Monday, a Sparks Middle School student opened fire on the campus located less than an hour from Incline Village. The student wounded two 12-year-old male students and killed eighth-grade math teacher Mike Landsberry, who was reportedly trying to protect students.
The shooter, reportedly a 12-year-old boy, also died in the incident after killing himself. The wounded boys are expected to recover, according to reports. Authorities Tuesday said they’re withholding the shooter’s name out of respect for his family.
According to reports, the shooter got the weapon from his home, and police are working to determine how he obtained the 9mm semi-automatic Ruger handgun. The boy’s parents are cooperating with authorities and could face charges in the case.
WCSD has 38 officers on its school police force. There is an armed officer assigned to each of the district’s 12 high schools, with remaining officers assisting at all 93 schools.
In Incline, one officer is assigned to the three public schools here, regularly patrolling each campus, Mieras said, considering their proximity within the small community.
“That officer really becomes a community officer for the schools in Incline, and the rapport that goes with knowing the students is important,” he said.
All schools have radios, allowing staff to directly contact school police officers or police dispatch if an emergency arises.
The district also has a number of security measures in place. Once school begins, staff closes and secures all doors and entries, enabling a single access point for when school is in session.
For the rest of the day, visitors must check in with the main office, and they must receive a visitor identification badge.
During the 2011-12 school year, the school board approved $15 million district-wide for the School Works Program, which involves upgrades such as door hardware, secured perimeters, controlled (single point) entry and video surveillance systems. Full construction is scheduled for completion in 2015.
In Incline, secure perimeter and single-entry projects are slated for spring 2014 for the elementary school, according to the district. The same work, along with updated doors and locks, was done during the 2012-13 year at the middle school. Doors and locks are scheduled up be upgraded at Incline High School in winter 2014.
In the event of an emergency, school police are assisted by several regional law enforcement agencies. Between 150 and 200 officers, including some from as far as 60 miles away, reportedly responded to Monday’s shooting at Sparks Middle School, where former Incline High Principal Stacey Cooper now serves.
In Washoe County, that kind of response is possible through a series of cooperation agreements, allowing officials with Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, SWAT, the Sparks and Reno police departments and elsewhere to respond.
The agreements exist “as part of our ongoing efforts to maximize resources for the safety and security of the public … and to provide mutual aid and assist as needed,” WCSO spokesman Bob Harmon said Wednesday.
While Incline Village may not be like Reno/Sparks in terms of dense population, Harmon said similar cooperation agreements at Lake Tahoe with the Nevada Highway Patrol, Placer County Sheriff’s Office in California and other agencies ensure the schools here can receive mass support.
Further, school police attend mandatory “active assailant trainings” twice a year to discuss and learn best practices and tactics for dealing with an armed intruder, according to the district. The training also is offered to all district employees annually.
While assailant training is essential for police to respond to an incident, each school is required to run annual “Code Red” — or lockdown — drills to prepare for the worst.
In such a scenario, Mieras said teachers are instructed to lock classroom doors (from the inside), shut all window blinds and gather students away from the door and windows, until given an all-clear. Teachers also are required to discuss Code Red drills with students and answer questions from them.
Similar “Code Yellow” drills are practiced each year. According to the district, these are treated as precautionary security situations if an incident has taken place near a campus, and are not designed as a crisis response measure for a major incident.
In terms of keeping parents informed of a real-life Code Red or Code Yellow, police notifies the WCSD Communications Department, which then works with a contact at the school experiencing a situation (typically a site administrator).
That message is then sent to parents in a variety of ways depending on the situation, according to the district. Options include Connect Ed phone calls, emails, text messages and through the media.
These and other measures ensure schools in Incline Village and Reno are as safe as possible, Mieras said.
“The statistics show that schools are still a safe place for your children,” he said “My thing as a parent … when I kiss my daughter in the morning and send her off to school … I have 100 percent confidence in that school’s safety.”
For detailed information about school safety, visit the WCSD website at www.washoecountyschools.org and click on the “School Safety Forums” button located on the homepage.