Sauk County schools to focus on reuniting families during crisis

school hallway
File photo

In an emergency, parents want to know their kids are safe and sound. But in those crisis situations, that can be easier said than done.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen in a 15- to 20-minute span. It’s something that is going to unfold over the course of hours,” Baraboo School District Director of Student Services Dani Scott said.

Scott said that realization is all in light of a new reunification plan that would be implemented if disaster hit at any of the schools.

“The parent reunification piece was always part of our plan, but it wasn’t really something we necessarily put front and center,” Scott said.

The plan was a collaborative effort spearheaded by Sauk County Emergency Management Director Jeff Jelinek.

“We wanted to have some type of process in place that we could bring everyone together, a chaotic situation, slow it down, and make it a situation or a process that’s going to work,” Jelinek said.

From the start, Jelinek realized there weren’t many plans out there addressing the issue of reuniting families after a crisis. He researched school shooting situations, and exchanged messages and phone calls with the police chief in Troutdale, Oregon, a city of comparable size to many across the county.

With that information and advice, Jelinek developed a process if a mass evacuation were to happen at a school. The reunification plan applies to all hazards, ranging from a gas leak to a school shooting. He implemented a system for making sure children are going home with their legal guardians, which involves specialized post-it notes.

“That’s how we have our accountability of who left with who,” Jelinek said.

“This is a long process, but it’s long for a reason,” Scott said. “We want to make sure that we’re only releasing our students to their legal parents or guardians, and that takes a process.”

Jelinek said he is also including pat searches into the process. In Troutdale, he learned a person with a weapon tried to enter the scene, seeking revenge for the situation. In another situation in Colorado, Jelinek said a child was patted down and responders discovered he had been shot.

Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf said in a massive emergency situation like a school shooting, he would be left extremely short-staffed. Having a plan in place for reuniting everyone helps prepare when and if law enforcement would be stretched in any large-scale, dangerous scenario.

“We as responders have the duty and responsibility to take chaos and cursing and turn it into control,” Schauf said.

Scott said more than 500 staff and faculty members were trained on the plan last week, but she hopes to practice the new reunification protocol in each individual school sometime in the near future.