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Paynesville Press - Oct. 1, 2003

PAHS responds to Rocori school shooting

By Michael Jacobson

Tragedy hit close to home last week with the school shooting at Rocori, a neighboring school district to Paynesville. One student was killed, one critically wounded, and another under arrest after the incident in Cold Spring, a mere 18 miles from Paynesville.

flag outside of school "It's just plain shocking," high school principal John Janotta told the junior and senior classes on Friday morning. "We didn't think it could happen here. Well, it can."

"I think what happened in Rocori has made us all realize that things like this can happen in small towns," added senior Maureen Flanders, the student council president at PAHS this year.

In fact, one of the victims has local ties. Rolly Bartell, the father of shooting victim Seth Bartell, has worked for the past nine months at A&C Farm Service in Paynesville. Seth Bartell, a ninth grader at Rocori, remains in critical condition at the St. Cloud Hospital.

Rolly Bartell and his wife Kim live in Cold Spring. They have two other children in the Rocori schools.

At least three PAHS graduates currently work at Rocori High School: Bret Aagesen, Stacy (Roberg) Stoneburner, and Steph Tangen.

The flag outside Paynesville Area High School flew at half mast on Monday as Governor Tim Pawlenty proclaimed a day of remembrance to mourn the victims of the shooting at Rocori High School in Cold Spring. The school shooting 18 miles away from Paynesville prompted reactions in the local school district, including a review of the district's crisis plans and meetings with all the high school students on Friday morning.

Reaction in the Paynesville Area School District to the nearby tragedy was swift, with the district's crisis management team meeting to review the district's policies and procedures and building principals meeting with their staffs to review these emergency plans.

While the staff has done things like looked at the district's crisis plan, something that normally sits on a shelf, reactive measures like this would be too late to prevent a tragedy, said Janotta, during a series of meetings with the high school student body on Friday morning.

Instead, the school, the students, the staff, and the community need to focus on proactive measures. "We can make Paynesville a safer place," said Janotta. "I hope when we walk out of here we remember one thing: the people in this room need to take care of each other. If we do that, we'll have a safe school."

PAHS cannot afford to be complacent when tragedy has struck so close to Paynesville, said Diane Seegers, a chemical health counselor at PAHS and a Rocori graduate herself. But metal detectors at the doors and frisking students will not lead to safer schools, she added.

"The answer, I believe, lies within each of us. You can make the school safe. Or you can make it fall apart. What we do everyday can make the school safe."

Student representatives also spoke to the student body.

Flanders and junior Katie Nelson agreed that students…all people… need to watch how they treat others.

Since bullying is a possible motive in the Rocori shooting, students need to be careful with teasing, name calling, and even rivalries, said Flanders, and they need to be more inclusive. "If (someone) feel(s) like they are outside the crowd, literally they might be outside the crowd," said Flanders. "You can pull them back in."

Teasing is powerful, said Nelson. "The old saying – ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me' – is a lie," she said.

Be friendly to everyone, refuse to laugh at other people, and practice kindness, urged Nelson.

"Having policies, having procedures, having crisis plans, all the things that adults try to do don't make you safe," said retired counselor Bob Cushman, who still helps at the high school. Rocori, he noted, had similar policies and plans. "Whether this school is safe is up to you," he told the high school students. "No one else can do it."

Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Secrets are dangerous to keep, Seegers told the students. They need to treat depression, suicide threats, boasts of bringing a gun to school, and threats to kill someone very seriously and report them.

Seegers told the students that Mark Johnson, the Rocori teacher who disarmed the shooter, taught her to drive. "There are a lot of Mark Johnsons in this school who want to be there for you and who want to make a difference," she said. "Seek them out. We're not here because we can't get a job anywhere else. We like you and want to be there for you."

Anyone needing help should talk to a friend, a parent, a teacher, a staff member, or a trusted adult. Anyone who is asked for help should treat the request seriously.

After holding the student meetings on Friday, the high school staff will need to assess if more needs to be done with the student body to cope with the nearby school shooting. Students possibly could discuss the tragedy in smaller groups this week or have a guest speaker.

A meeting for parents is also possible, if needed. Any high school parent with concerns should call Janotta at 320-243-3761.

"It's a terrible tragedy, but at the same time we need to reassure people that we are doing as much as we can to provide a safe environment for students and staff," said superintendent Howard Caldwell.

While all tragedies are terrible, they are easier to forget when they are further away, according to Caldwell. "This is close enough… that (it) hits home much harder."

One thing the district may do is look at revising their 20-page Crisis Management Policy, first adopted in June 1999 and reapproved by the school board in June 2000, said Caldwell.



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