GC VILLAGE — The recent rash of school violence around the country has made some people around Grand Canyon Village wonder if a shooting could happen in their small community.
Grand Canyon School principal Ray Vernon is not taking the issue lightly and believes there are things that can be done to deter such activity.
"It’s a serious matter. I hope kids don’t see it as something to joke around with," Vernon said. "We have to take things seriously, anything’s possible. We want our students to be safe. If a student would make a joke or threat, we’ll take it seriously."
With last week’s incident in Williams of a teen making threats at school (see Williams section), it has become obvious that northern Arizona is not immune to the nationwide problem. One way the local school would react to such situations would be through the implementation of a campus lockdown.
"We’re taking the teachers and providing them with procedures on lockdown drills … in case there is a perpetrator," Vernon said. "In the last school district I worked in, we had a lockdown drill every month."
A school lockdown involves every teacher and employee on campus being assigned to perform a certain task to ensure the safety of the students.
When a lockdown is called for, teachers check outside their door and grab any student close to their classroom. The door is then locked and the teacher calls the office to report what kids are in the room. A list is then compiled from all teachers and it can be determined who may be missing.
Various other personnel have assignments, such as checking bathrooms and other spots on campus. There are procedures for students caught outside with the course of action depending on the location of the perpetrator. Vernon said those students would not be brought inside, but would be told to get down on the blacktop, for example.
Vernon has not personally seen extreme school violence during his career in education, but there was an incident in Tuba City just one year before his arrival.
"There was one incident in Tuba City in the early ’80s when a guy went berserk and a Navajo policeman was shot," Vernon said. "He entered the building where I became principal … they had the doors locked and the kids on the floor. It ended up in the death of that policeman."
Vernon also mentioned the possibility of further education for staff when it comes to crisis management. He said there is a national expert in school violence who works out of Flagstaff. With that, it could be possible to bring someone on campus to share their expertise with teachers and staff on the subject.
There have been incidents involving weapons on Grand Canyon School grounds in past years. National Park Service ranger Ronnie Gibson could recall four incidents during his tenure here in the park.
Vernon said one of the biggest risks involving the potential for on-campus violence involves the school’s location.
"One of our more serious security issues … is our campus is extremely vulnerable with being in the forest in the trees with no security or fences around," Vernon said. "And we have public paths going through our campus."
Vernon said he’s been trying to implement a better program of campus visitors checking in at the front office, including parents who are taking children out of school.
The school does have security cameras in some spots, such as the weight room. And teachers should now have a crisis management plan posted by their telephone.
For Vernon, teachers and students, it’s the hope that scenarios being seen around the country never materialize at Grand Canyon.