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Robbinsdale community calls out school district after reported gun incidents

The community packed a board meeting on Monday to express concerns about the district's handling of recent reports of guns in school buildings.

ROBBINSDALE, Minn. — Parents, teachers, and even local police chiefs criticized the public safety response of the Robbinsdale Area Schools at a school board meeting on Monday, following three recent reports of students bringing guns into middle schools.

Teachers at Sandburg Middle School sent a letter to district leaders and spoke as a group during a 6 p.m. public comment section, which drew a large crowd and lasted more than a half-hour. The district's investigating a video that surfaced on social media this month, appearing to show a student with a gun inside of a Sandburg Middle School bathroom.

School officials say that no guns were found on school grounds in any of the incidents.

However, Mike Shanor, whose son attends sixth grade at Sandburg, said the district waited too long to notify parents about the social media video. 

“There is a lack of trust,” he said.

Erik Fadden, the public safety director in Plymouth, attended Monday’s meeting alongside representatives from Crystal Police and Golden Valley Police. Although the three most recent reports of guns in school buildings did not occur in Plymouth, he said that a similar (though unfounded) incident at a school in his jurisdiction last month left him questioning the district’s safety procedures. 

Taking the podium during public comment, Fadden said that his department has found breakdowns in the district’s lockdown policies and that staff seemed “confused” last month about how to handle the report of a gun. 

“A call was made to the front office of the school, from what I was being told, and then to district offices, and at some point the police were finally notified,” Fadden said. “If in fact that was a gun in a school, and something was going to happen, that delay could cost… I don’t even want to think about what it could cost.”

At a 7 p.m. meeting following public comment, Superintendent David Engstrom read a prepared statement to the audience, promising that “you have my word—we’re going to do better.”

The school board then discussed a proposed change to the district’s weapons policy, clarifying that the “building principal shall, as soon as practicable, refer to the criminal justice system or juvenile delinquency system; as appropriate, a student who brings a firearm to school unlawfully." 

The updated policy could be adopted as soon as next month, bringing the district in line with state statute and Minnesota School Boards Association recommendations. However, the current policy already clarifies that police should be immediately notified if a student has a gun on school grounds. 

The board also went into closed session late Monday to “receive security briefings, and discuss emergency response procedures and educational data.”

“We take security very seriously, and we know the incidents that we’ve heard about in the last week are troubling,” Superintendent Engstrom said in an interview with KARE 11. “We know we’ve got work to do to improve our processes and communication.”

Engstrom said that notification of police should occur on a “case-by-case basis.” 

In the incident related to the social media video at Sandburg Middle School, he said the district notified police following a school investigation.

“When it comes to reporting to police, we have to do our investigation. On certain cases, sometimes that investigation might take a while, in order to get to the accuracy and the truth,” Engstrom said. “Yet, we can improve our systems, and we will always be reporting to police if ever we find that there is a gun in any of our schools or a student has had possession of a gun in any of our schools.”

Robbinsdale School Board Chair released a statement Tuesday saying the Board of Education and district administrators are working together to improve their current policies and procedures.

"The board and administration commit to a review process that leads to continuous improvement related to school safety," the statement reads, in part. "The review process will provide data that will be an important base for updates provided to our staff and to the community going forward.

"We are assured that district administrators will notify police immediately when there's a report or suspicion of a gun, either at a school or in the possession of a student. The district will also communicate with families and staff immediately about incidents involving guns."

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