In wake of Uvalde shooting, Dane Co. parent raises concerns about daughter’s school safety plan

COTTAGE GROVE, Wis. — In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas last month, Cottage Grove parent Mike Sokolowski checked in with his middle schooler about what her school was doing to prepare students for a similar event.

After his daughter told him that she hadn’t done a school violence drill this year, Sokolowski reached out to school officials and the local police department to get some answers. While he says the school didn’t offer much information, an officer told him the school hadn’t conducted an active threat drill since 2018.

“I found it really concerning that the officer told me they hadn’t done it in a number of years,” said Sokolowski. “I know that they value the kids’ safety. I don’t think there’s any malicious intent or anything, but I want to make sure that they’re taking it seriously and that the kids are prepared for any circumstance.”

He says he’s frustrated with the lack of training for kids and what he sees as a lack of communication from the school.

“If they have it written on their website as far as what they are doing, the expectation from me as a parent is that they’re doing those things. And if they’re not and there’s a good reason, that might be okay, but there’s just no communication,” said Sokolowski.

In response to questions, the Monona Grove School District says they do in fact conduct active shooter drills, but that they look different based on the school and the age of students. In February, the month after Sokolowski first started asking questions about the drills according to email records he shared, the district says they audited their school safety response policies.

Active shooting drills: Wisconsin laws

Wisconsin Act 143, a law passed in 2017, requires that all schools conduct at least two school violence drills every year. But the Wisconsin Department of Justice doesn’t specify what these drills have to look like, so they can differ a lot from school to school. While some schools commit to intense simulation drills, other schools take a different approach.

According to Trish Kilpin, the Director of the DOJ’s Office of School Safety, schools can decide how to conduct active shooter drills. She says many have been rethinking how they do drills in order to minimize trauma for students.

“It is important to drill. Not every drill has to be an intense, highly upsetting drill in order to be effective,” Kilpin said. “The research is really showing us there’s not great benefit with doing more extreme type drills because the foundational pieces of those drills is what matters.”

Schools are required to report their protocols and experiences back to the Office of School Safety, and if they aren’t satisfactory, the OSS may step in.

“What we’re asking for is an evaluation of how the drill went and what happened during it and what they learned from it,” Kilpin said. “We follow up with schools when they fail to make submissions and we really want to coach them to success.”

School response

When asked about the lack of drills, Monona Grove Superintendent Dan Olson responded saying, in part, “Drilling on school safety incidents look slightly different based on school building and grade level. These drills could include “talking drills” (reading or age-appropriate activities), “thinking drills” (planning and idea-generating), or active practice drills (calmly practicing barricading or evacuating to a safe area).”

Olson also added that in February after an audit, the district approved a one-year plan to bring on a specialist to advise them on their school safety plans. He says this Director of Safety and Security will “facilitate and coordinate the planning and response to issues related to safety.”

The district did not respond to follow-up questions about when their last active shooter drill happened.

Sokolowski says he does think about how these drills might be affecting young kids, but he also hopes that talking about what to do in the event of a school shooting could help students feel safer.

“You hate to want to normalize something like that, but it might be scary and traumatic the less frequent you talk about it. Most kids are scared of severe weather but we drill for it all the time and it’s less scary then,” Sokolowski said.

And while Sokolowski understands that the drills at Glacial Drumlin School might consist of only talking, he says they’re not even doing that.

“In the world that we live in today, I definitely don’t like the idea that you have to have these kinds of drills but also, I feel like you have to be prepared for anything,” Sokolowski said.