JT Stroder has more than a decade of service in education and was named Grand County superintendent in 2017. In a discussion with The Times-Independent last week, he said the district is taking a “proactive” approach to preventing gun violence on campus — while also reaching out to “at-risk” students in need of support.
In a recent letter to parents, Stroder outlined the district’s work on this account and pointed to a group of concerned local officials who meet regularly to discuss ways of keeping students and staff safe.
“Campus safety has been a high priority for me, wherever I have worked,” Stroder said. “Back in September we started reviewing our emergency plans and going over updates to make sure they work. This is done with our ‘clinical safety team’ on a monthly basis and that group is comprised of the police department, sheriff’s office, EMS and fire, and the hospital. It’s a group that would respond in any type of crisis.”
Feedback from that team, Stroder said, resulted in the addition of digital, high-definition cameras at each of the three campuses in the district. (The charter school operates independently from Grand County School District authority.)
“We’ve added cameras in areas that we believe needed more coverage,” Stroder said. “Those cameras are now online and can be monitored by all the members of law enforcement and staff here at the district. It can all be monitored in real time. The new middle school, when it is built, will also have all-digital cameras and recording gear. We’re also focusing on people-flow through the school and are securing doors so we know where people can enter and exit the buildings.”
Active shooter drills
While the district has performed a variety of safety drills since Stroder began his tenure, none of those have been what are known as “active shooter” drills. Stroder said he plans to hold one in the near future, after consultation with local law enforcement and first responders, and a principal from a district in San Juan County that is also preparing such a drill.
“We haven’t had one since I’ve been here, but we are currently in talks with the police, sheriff and clinical safety team to get one set up,” Stroder said. “Whitehorse High School is also planning to hold one next fall, and they have asked if we’d be willing to evaluate that program. One of our principals is going to go down [to Montezuma Creek] to watch and go through the process of what they are doing.”
Stroder added that talks between stakeholders regarding such a drill have hinged on which methodology the enactment would entail. One of the drills would involve the concept of “flee, hide, fight,” but whether such a scenario would be used for training in Grand County is up for debate.
“We don’t yet know if that is the best way to handle things,” Stroder said. “As you saw in [Florida] last week, a fire alarm was set off as a means of getting people out of the classroom and in front of the attacker. So we don’t know yet what approach we are going to take.”
A drill planned for March was called off, Stroder said, because, “We want to make sure all of our ducks are in a row with law enforcement before we pull that off full scale.”
A full-time presence
Moab Police Department Officer Larry Velasquez has been with the department since 2015 and was assigned to be the school resource officer to Grand County schools in late 2017. A 2008 graduate of Grand County High School, Velasquez is now charged with securing his alma mater, as well as Grand County Middle School and Helen M. Knight Elementary School on a daily basis.
Velasquez’s presence is one that Moab City Assistant Police Chief Bret Edge believes is optimum, given his officer’s skill in law enforcement and relationship with students and staff.
“Officer Velasquez was specifically chosen as the school resource officer role because he is an exceptional officer and he has a fantastic rapport with all the kids at all the schools,” Edge said. “We felt, when we hired him, that he was the right officer to build relationships with the youth, as well as providing the schools with safety and security. This is very important because if the kids trust him and feel like he will act on their tips or concerns, they will be likely to go to him with any red flags they see.”
Reaching out to those in need
When an incident like the Florida shooting happens, Stroder said students in the district are offered grief counseling to students who may need it.
“The kids have access to their regular, school-based staff at the middle school and high school, as well as therapists that are available at all three campuses,” Stroder said. “We also have a contract with Four Corners Behavioral Health to offer professional therapy services, in addition to those that are in-house.”
For more information on the school safety program in Grand County, contact the school district office at 435-259-5317.