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Local schools respond to Aztec High School shooting

Schools hold drills and address concerns in wake of attack
Students from Aztec High School were moved from the school as police investigated the shooting on Dec. 7.

In the aftermath of the school shooting in Aztec, New Mexico, that left two students and the shooter dead, school districts are refocusing on safety.

According to the districts, previously scheduled drills and meetings were moved up in priority after last week’s tragedy.

In a news release to parents and guardians on Dec. 8, Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 District Superintendent Lori Haukeness expressed condolences to the neighboring school district and invited the public to the district’s safety meeting at the Cortez Middle School library Thursday, Dec. 14 at 5:30 p.m.

“Through a collective, strong partnership with the local law enforcement and first responders, the school district has a comprehensive safety plan which is reviewed regularly by the District Safety Team,” Haukeness said in the news release.

The district aims to keep the public informed and address any concerns during this meeting, according to the release.

In an email to The Journal, Haukeness said that counselors are meeting with students and discussing anti-bullying resources.

“The school-level counselors have been meeting with students,” Haukeness said in an email. “Students have been reminded of Safe To Tell and the need to inform staff if they see or hear anything that could be a potential threat.”

Mancos School District Re-6 previously scheduled a lockdown drill for Tuesday at 10:15 a.m. but is now taking extra precautions. The district also invited substitute teachers, administrative assistant Erica Holm said in an email.

The drill was successful and took about 25 minutes, according to Heath Schowalter, athletic director and dean of students.

“We had a lot of campus to cover, but we were able to go through, check the perimeters, check the inner doors, and it took us about 25 minutes to do all of this,” Schowalter said.

According to Schowalter, the district does two lockdown drills per year and a fire drill once per month.

All available associate teachers and substitutes were on site for the drill. They were each assigned to a teacher and classroom.

Dolores RE-4A School District Superintendent Scott Cooper said in a voice-mail that precautions were taken in Dolores the day of the shooting.

Cooper said that he received news from Aztec, he contacted each principal and initiated a “light lockdown” but attempted to continue the school day as normally as possible.

Law enforcement remains on the watch

By Stephanie Alderton

Journal Staff Writer

Montezuma County law enforcement agencies were also on alert after the Aztec High School shooting.

Both the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office and the Cortez Police Department provided extra security to schools on the day of the shooting, and police Lt. Andy Brock said patrolling near schools continues to be a high priority. Spokesmen for both agencies said they train officers and school staff about warning signs of a possible attack and how to respond to one.

Sheriff Steve Nowlin wouldn’t disclose his strategy for a shooting because he didn’t want to tip off a potential shooter. But he said his strategy for preventing one is simple.

“The only way to prevent it is to be there,” he said.

Dolores School District Re-4A has a full-time school resource officer from the Sheriff’s Office, and Nowlin said deputies try to patrol other schools in the county when possible. The Cortez district has two officers from the police department. Both agencies rely on the officers to tell them about suspicious activity in the schools, and Nowlin said he believes their presence has helped prevent potentially dangerous incidents. Brock said the city’s resource officers help the police department because they know students and their situations better than the average officer.

“They get 10 times the information we get,” he said.

Nowlin said he believes it’s also vital for schools and law enforcement to crack down on bullying. He encouraged parents, students and staff to communicate with law enforcement and with each other as openly as possible about any problem they face.

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