Officials from four Iowa school districts that were struck by disaster last year are offering some sage advice to other educators around the state.
Advice from school officials who waded through flood damage or picked through the aftermath of a tornado is included in a new "toolkit" that’s being distributed by the Iowa Association of School Boards.
The association’s Megan Hawkins says natural disasters occur so infrequently, the details of how to react aren’t at the forefront of people’s minds. "When the disasters struck last year, our staff right away started fielding questions from a lot of school districts and A.E.A.’s about everything from what funds they could use to recover, different policies, all kinds of things," Hawkins says. "That really showed a need for some kind of tool to be out there for schools."
Hawkins and others spoke with officials from Cedar Rapids, Dike-New Hartford, Waverly-Shell Rock and Aplington-Parkersburg school districts. They learned it was lucky last year’s tornado happened on Sunday, when students weren’t inside the high school building in Parkersburg.
"In Parkersburg, for example, the area where they had been told was a safe area, if there had been students in the school and that tornado struck, they would have been in the hallway," Hawkins says, "and the tornado ripped right through that."
The "Lessons Learned" toolkit suggests school officials bring in engineers to make sure the "safe zones" where students go in safety drills are indeed the safest place in the school if a tornado or other disaster were to strike.
"That’s one thing we really want to get out to people is things like that," Hawkins says. "You need to know to ask these questions and really prepare better."
Aplington-Parkersburg superintendent Jon Thompson says the damage to the school shows students and staff should stay away from the gymnasium if there’s another tornado.
"The big steel beams that support the ceiling structure actually not only collapsed, they moved great distances and where they landed was in some of our safe areas," Thompson said during an interview featured on the Iowa Association of School Boards website.
The disaster guide for schools also recommends setting up a system to preserve student records at another, site away from the school, in case the paper records or computer discs with digital student records are damaged or destroyed. In addition, Hawkins says teachers need to help keep an up-to-date inventory of what’s in their classroom.
"Ideally, you want to have inventories of every area of your school, but…some insurance experts…were finding, really, is that a lot of teachers just get wrapped up in things and they don’t keep a good inventory," Hawkins says. "Same thing happens sometimes with other out-buildings or your concession stands or your stadium equipment — that kind of stuff. It really is key to know exactly what you have."
Teachers who bring personal items into the classroom need to check to see if that stuff would be covered by their homeowners policy.
"Teachers bring in all kinds of their own stuff into the classroom and it really just depends on their policies, if they’ve got homeowners that will cover that," Hawkins says. "And if they don’t, it’s important that they ask that question of their employers — their school district — to make sure that they’re covered somehow."
The Grant Wood Area Education Agency in Cedar Rapids was also heavily damaged by flood waters and officials from the A.E.A. offered their advice to the Iowa Association of School Boards. Hawkins says the advice covers about a dozen different areas.
"Everything from how to keep student records safe to how to deal with volunteers and donations — and even the emotional and personal impact for students and staff," Hawkins says. "We really tried to make it all-encompassing, so we really hope people will find it useful."
You can see the toolkit for yourself here.
A paper copy of the "Lessons Learned" toolkit has been sent to every K-12 district, all 15 area community colleges and the Area Education Agencies in Iowa.