Weyauwega-Fremont School District administrators and Safety Committee members will discuss if any changes need to be made in how the district evacuates its buildings.
That is after mock evacuation drills were held on both the Fremont and Weyauwega campuses.
“The best part of these mock evacuations is that you learn what works and what needs changing,” said Matt Wilbert, the principal of the middle and high schools. “The administrative team will debrief and the Safety Committee will look at it at its next meeting.”
In Weyauwega, the drill began at 12:50 p.m. Wednesday, May 15.
In the scenario, the elementary, middle and high schools all had to be evacuated due to a gas leak.
Students filed out of the building and to designated areas, where they lined up and were counted by their teachers.
At 1:01 p.m., the first bus, loaded with kindergarten students, left for the Waupaca County Fairgrounds, which was the designated safety area for the drill.
That bus arrived at the fairgrounds at 1:04 p.m. The final group of students (high schoolers) walked into the grandstand at 1:30 p.m.
District Administrator Scott Bleck used a megaphone as he said, “We cleared the Weyauwega campus in a little less than 40 minutes. The concept of moving 700 people is a big task.”
He thanked the students for remaining orderly and the staff for securing the safety of the students.
“Why did we do this?” Bleck asked.
He said the district has fire and tornado drills throughout the year, and there could be cases when the schools had to be evacuated for a longer period.
During the week of April 15, the district held Safety Week.
The district practiced fire and tornado drills, including during lunch and when students were between classes.
“We did drills which would have been directly of an obscure nature on purpose. We thought that would help us prepare,” Wilbert said. “It’s important to note some did not go well. We had a few flaws in the system. From doing the drill, we were able to fix it to make it safer for the students.”
For example, when one drill took place between classes, there were questions as to the quickest ways to get to the pre-determined safety spots.
Those questions were cleared up after the drill, he said.
“The only way to learn is to run a drill,” Wilbert said.
He said this was the first time the district had a Safety Week and held several different drills within it.
Planning began last year, before the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Because of my proactive stance on safety, we were ahead of the game,” he said. “In today’s world, it can’t hurt to be proactive and preventative. I thought this exercise would be a good way to help put our district in the best possible position to be prepared for a future disaster.”
The Safety Committee includes administrators, teachers, counselors and custodians.
“In combination with the Weyauwega Police Department, we worked collaboratively to ensure the safety of our students in a real disaster,” Wilbert said.
That is why buses were used in the mock evaucation drill.
“We tried to develop a way of having a shield,” he said of the manner in which the students got onto the buses. “We practiced the pick up in case we needed to shield the children from danger. After yesterday, I would look at changing the designated safety areas and backing them up further.”
While the fairgrounds was the designated safety area in last week’s mock evacuation drill and within walking distance of the schools, Wilbert noted the district has numerous, designated safety areas. Not all of them are within walking distance.
He also said on a cold, winter day, they would want the students on buses. That is also why the youngest students got on buses first, “in case something happened in the winter, and we needed to get the little ones as soon as possible,” Wilbert said.
Marleen Dobrinsky, the district’s transportation supervisor, planned the route to the fairgrounds, working to make it the quickest route with the least amount of traffic.
The bus route was circular to avoid the buses crossing paths.
“One thing to note is the drivers were called on the fly between 12:15 and 12:30 p.m.,” Wilbert said. “Marleen got on the horn and called the bus drivers, and they came in.”
It was Weyauwega Police Chief Jerry Poltrock’s idea to not tell the bus drivers ahead of time of the planned mock evacuation drill.
Wilbert said the safety of the students is the No. 1 priority in an evacuation, with accountability as important.
That is why all the students had to line up before getting on a bus.
“With older students, they could go right to their cars,” he said of what could happen if the schools had to be evacuated and there was not such a plan in place. “This way, they had to line up.”
He said, “We are definitely comfortable now with our accountability system if something were to go wrong.”
In Weyauwega last week, the first bus – again filled with kindergarten students – left the fairgrounds at 1:39 p.m. and returned to school three minutes later.
“We had a small amount of lost instructional time. We evacuated 700 people and missed 1 1/2 hours of instructional time. Ask yourself – is 90 minutes of lost instructional time worth it? As a parent, I say, ‘yes,'” Wilbert said. “I can just hope that the work I put in on this exercise can help the entire school district in the future.”