District seeks new crisis plan

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The Steamboat Springs School District, for the most part, has been crisis- and tragedy-free in recent years.

But that changed last week with the accidental death of a middle school student.

Steamboat Springs Middle School counselor Margi Briggs-Casson responded to the tragic news in the only way she knew how, by calling together a group of district employees that included principals and counselors from each school. Steamboat Mental Health Center professionals also were part of the group.

Within hours, the group created a comprehensive crisis response plan complete with a statement for middle school teachers to read to their students and a detailed schedule of staff meetings and debriefings and counseling opportunities for students, staff and parents.

The plan went into effect the next day and continued through the week, creating a needed sense of comfort and security for many grieving students and staff members, middle school Principal Tim Bishop said.

"During times of uncertainty, the best way to calm fears is to have a plan," Bishop said. "It gave some stability to a very difficult situation."

"We had a lot of good thinking in terms of how to respond to the situation," Superintendent Donna Howell said of the emergency meeting.

But the meeting also marked a shift in how the district and its schools respond to crisis situations. It's a shift Howell and others say is a positive and necessary step for the district.

In past years, crisis response plans were handled at the building level and didn't include involvement from professionals in the other district schools, Howell said.

Now, Howell wants the district to formulate a detailed, comprehensive crisis response plan that not only will involve professionals at each school, but also will include linkages to community resources such as the Steamboat Springs Police Department, the Routt County Sheriff's Office, Steamboat Mental Health Center and others.

"This is just taking it to the next step, where we can tap into support from the entire professional community," Howell said. "I believe everyone now understands the value of bringing people together."

Public school tragedies, such as the Columbine shootings in Littleton and the terrorist siege of a Russian school in September, shed light on the need for school systems to be completely prepared for a variety of crises ranging from violent attacks to natural disasters and student or staff deaths, Howell said.

"Hopefully we'll never need to use it, but we must be prepared," she said.

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