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A new, safer Minnehaha Academy

Sept. 26, 2019

View through large windows looking out at trees

The huge windows let in lots of light. You can gaze out to green spaces with beautiful trees, contemplating a fact you’ve just learned or letting your brain work out a math problem. The new Minnehaha Academy Upper School manages to be both a peaceful, safe place to learn and thrive and a memorial of the natural gas explosion that destroyed the old building and killed two people on Aug. 2, 2017.

The Minnesota School Safety Center (MnSSC) has been with the academy every step of the way—even before the explosion occurred. MnSSC worked with administration on emergency operation planning, conducted a safe school facility assessment, and did some tabletop training with the staff. That last part really helped the day of the tragedy – Minnehaha Academy President Dr. Donna Harris said this work prepared them and helped them know what to do.

When the academy moved into their temporary home for two years, MnSSC staff walked through that site as well. They wanted to help the school administration make the temporary campus into a welcoming place where the students could not only learn, but heal and recover from the tragedy.

The new building was completed in the summer of 2019, and MnSSC staff was invited back to visit before the teachers and students returned for the new school year. Their goal was to help Minnehaha Academy understand and apply the most up-to-date practices for building security, student safety, and crisis response in the new space.

For example, the new building features a front desk rather than a traditional school office, and visitors are given a photo badge with a QR code that tracks their visit. Security cameras are built into the ceiling, and exterior doors are secured during school hours in accordance with school’s emergency operations plan, thus striking a balance between safety and peacefulness.

The MnSSC does similar work in schools all over Minnesota—for free! In 2018, they reached 262 schools, whether public, private, charter or tribal. There, they gave trainings, helped with emergency operations planning, and conducted safe school facility assessments – all with a staff of three people.

As for Minnehaha Academy, they continue to set an example in student safety by continuing to train their educators and administrators in school safety best practices in their new space.