All of us in public education are saddened and struggling with the February school shootings in Florida. We have seen media coverage of student led marches and protests in Florida, Washington, DC, and Minneapolis. School lockdowns or closures due to threats or perceived threats to student safety seem to be a daily occurrence. There is substantial national passion regarding gun violence and school safety, which is entirely justified since we, as adults, have not fixed the problems that our generation has created.

Moved by this concern, a district staff member proposed organizing and sponsoring a student walkout at Bemidji High School. After learning of public concerns both supporting and opposing a walkout, the staff member decided to cancel the event and take down the website.  Let me again clarify, the event sponsor decided to cancel the event – not the High School Principal nor the Superintendent of Schools, as many people were led to believe by inaccurate or misleading newspaper coverage of the event.

Bemidji Area Schools’ administration and staff stand with our students in calling for meaningful measures to adequately address gun violence, school safety, and mental health support for young people. We have and will continue to advocate for change in St. Paul and Washington, DC.  We have taken school safety very seriously in Bemidji Area Schools. We hired specialists to conduct school threat assessments of all facilities. We frequently practice lockdowns, intruder alerts, ALICE drills, and table top exercises. We have well-designed and thoughtful crisis management plans, installed hundreds of thousands of dollars of surveillance equipment, and have Police Liaison Officers that are assigned to Bemidji Middle School and Bemidji High School through the cooperation of the Bemidji Police Department.

Even with all these measures, we realize violence can happen anywhere so we must be prepared with knowledge of best practice and make every reasonable effort to prevent tragedies such as Parkland, Florida; Red Lake; or Columbine from ever happening here. Our success avoiding such horrific events will be determined in large part by our ability to work together as an educational community with students, parents, staff, administrators, law enforcement, and community members sharing concern, information, and resources. Together we can reduce the risk of tragedy for our students, but everyone must have a voice in the issue and solution. For these reasons, Bemidji High School Student Council is planning an event where we will bring lawmakers in St. Paul to Bemidji, allowing student voices to be heard. Look for more information in the following weeks.

Thank you,
James A. Hess, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools