Part 1 of a two part series on a reunification drill held by the Abilene school district.
School was already out for the summer, but dozens of Abilene school district employees, parents, students and others gathered at Sterl Hall May 23 to conduct a reunification drill — a procedure everyone involved hopes will never need to be used.
“In the rare event we ever have to evacuate a school, we need to take those students outside the building to an offsite location to reunify them with their parents,” explained school employee Mike Liby.
Liby is the Abilene School District’s tech coordinator and has just been named head Abilene High School girls’ basketball coach, but if a reunification situation ever occurred Liby would serve as the “reunification commander.”
Liby was assigned the responsibility two years ago when former Superintendent Denise Guy told him he would be good at it.
“When I was given the job I was told I could use anybody in the district — except teachers and administrators. That’s because school would still be going on in the other four buildings and the teachers and administrators will still have to be in their buildings,” Liby said.
That’s why nearly everyone involved is classified or support staff — school secretaries, aides, library/media specialists, custodians, bus drivers. Top district officials like the superintendent may be involved; however, it’s likely they would need to be at the school that was evacuated.
“The people involved in this (reunification) are not the administrators and teachers who are used to interacting with the public,” explained Interim Superintendent Gary Nelson.
“The actual evacuation of the building and handling that will be done by the administrator of the building, police or others, depending on the situation,” Liby explained. “Reunification has nothing to do with that. Once the kids are put on a bus and we get them to the reunification site, our job is to get the students to their parents or guardians and make sure they are with the correct parent, guardian or emergency contact.”
What is reunification?
“We’re trying to make reunification a controlled process,” Nelson explained. “You don’t want 150 parents showing up at the same time trying to get their kids at once.”
Reunification is a structured process, developed out of major emergencies that have occurred in schools in recent years. It is part of the district’s SRP (Standard Response Protocol) based on training developed by John-Michael Keyes, a man whose daughter was killed in a school hostage situation at Platte Canyon, (Colo.) High School.
Abilene High School Principal Ben Smith, School Resource Officer Kris Kobiskie, Police Chief Mike Mohn and others have attended the training.
The schools already conduct lockdown drills and prepare for a variety of scenarios. The reunification drill is just another way of being prepared.
“I think it’s good to practice and see where areas need to be improved. Find out what may be a problem that needs to be worked through to make sure it runs as efficiently as possible,” said Officer Kobiskie.
While many immediately think about school shootings, the reasons a building might have to be evacuated are varied, perhaps due to a gas leak, a fire, a nearby wreck that involves a chemical spill or even a science experiment gone wrong.
“We have to know exactly where the kids are. Once a student is put on an ambulance, we have to know who that kid was. They’re (emergency personnel) not going to tell us because of HIPAA (privacy regulations that safeguard medical information). We need to know where all our kids are and where they are supposed to be. When we get them to the reunification site we need to know who is there and who is not there,” Nelson elaborated.
The school district has three Abilene locations that can be used as reunification centers, but the exact location will not be known until a situation occurs. Then parents would be notified where to go using any means possible, including school message apps and media outlets.
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org