Minnesota lawmakers propose school safety legislation

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Minnesota lawmakers are proposing adding resources for school districts to improve school safety. A bill introduced earlier this month would create a $100 million fund for districts to tap into for physical building improvements.

“It’s about making sure if there is an emergency at a school, police, fire, the school, everybody has communications with one another,” said Sen. Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville, who authored the Senate version. “And we’re responding as quickly as we possibly can to help whoever is in need.”

Duckworth previously served as a Lakeville School Board member. The district has been implementing additional security measures through the company 3D Response Systems.

“We took it to the voters of Lakeville,” he explained. “As you can imagine, that could be a pretty expensive thing to do when you’re talking about all of the schools throughout the state of Minnesota.”

Rep. Elliott Engen, R-White Bear Township, who is sponsoring the bill in the House, toured the Lakeville Area Schools improvements.

“I was looking at all of the components and saying how hasn’t this been something that’s been rolled out nationwide,” Engen said.

Districts that apply for the funding are required to have a facilities plan, which includes a plan for each site that identifies physical changes that would improve safety. Each district could apply for up to $300,000 for modifications, including adding bullet-resistant interior doors and windows, ballistic wall panels, remote lockdown activation systems and emergency building access for first responders, among others.

“School districts can use this money and apply for this grant if it’s something they think they would use and know how to maintain,” Engen said. “This would be a great start to see what components they might want to use of the list.”

The Minnesota School Safety Center would prepare a list of vendors authorized to provide the security upgrades, according to the bill.

While there hasn’t been a hearing on the proposed legislation yet, both the House and Senate versions have bipartisan co-authors.

“I really do hope society in general really has a paradigm shift,” said Jason Polinski, president and co-owner of 3D Response Systems.

Polinski used his experience as a school resource officer to create a new approach to building safety in 2015. He described the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School as a turning point.

“You’re seeing all of these incidents and you’re seeing all of these kids being killed in these incidents,” he said. “Can we can fix this?”

3D Response Systems works with school districts to create a multi-layered plan which focuses on cover, concealment and communication. Polinksi explained they equip classrooms with a police button that immediately sends a message to 911 and alerts law enforcement of the room number that called for help.

“Once they hit that button, it sends the message and it also activates 1,200 pounds of magnetic pressure on the door and it sets off the alert system inside and outside of the building,” he said. “There’s [also] ballistic panels, magnets, window enhancements, so on and so forth, that are installed in a school and installed very tactically through the eyes of a SWAT type of mindset.”

The company, however, hides the ballistic materials so it doesn’t disrupt learning or create concerns among students.

“We have come up with a very creative solutions so that the classroom appears to look like any other classroom that any of us have attended,” said Michelle Frauenshuh, who is a co-owner and a licensed therapist.

She explained they also work with schools to create additional mental health supports for students who may be struggling.

“We work with members of the community to come alongside kids to get them the help they need to redirect their path,” Frauenshuh said. “The other piece that we do is we provide support should there be an incident. We provide support for the families, for the kids in the school, the community, so that they are on a pathway of healing.”

If the school safety legislation moves forward, 3D Response Systems could be a vendor the state works with.

Frauenshuh hopes the bills introduced this session are just a start.

“Ideally, what we would like to see is the prevention, the intervention and the restoration of the community be one package so there is legislative support, or grant dollars for state standards, so each district or each private school would be able to access a really robust team to address the mental health components early on, a school that’s safe, and have access to specialized team should anything occur,” she said.