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Exercise looks at how LPS would react in event of disaster; and high school bowlers have alternative
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Exercise looks at how LPS would react in event of disaster; and high school bowlers have alternative

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K-12 education reporter

Zach Hammack, a 2018 UNL graduate, has always called Lincoln home. He previously worked as a copy editor at the Journal Star and was a reporting intern in 2017. Now, he covers students, teachers and schools as the newspaper’s K-12 reporter.

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Many of today's conversations about school safety revolve around keeping students and teachers protected from COVID-19.

But schools must be ready to answer the call when other threats arise — such as natural disasters or violence. A mock exercise last week at Lincoln Public Schools assessed how the district would react if one of those threats became a reality.

More than 160 Pound Middle School seventh graders took part in a reunification drill Friday to practice how LPS would safely transport students and reunify them with their parents in the event of a crisis — anything from a shooting to a fire or a gas leak.

Students were taken to the school's designated relocation site — usually a nearby business or church — where they would gather if it were unsafe to return to their building. Then they were bused to Lincoln Southwest High School, chosen as the district's reunification site because of its size and design.

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While this is the third time the district has run the exercise, this particular drill looked closely at how the district would work with parents to meet up with their children, said LPS Security Director Joe Wright.

Eleven parents took part in Friday's drill, arriving at Southwest and filling out paperwork used to match them with their students. A number of those parents were not native English speakers, which the district arranged to examine how that might affect the process.

"We found a couple of glitches in our systems, but that's why we do these exercises," said Kyle Poore, LPS security coordinator, who helped orchestrate the run-through.

The district has learned some things from previous drills — the last one came two years ago because COVID-19 prevented one in 2020. 

In the past, students would typically congregate in Southwest's gyms, where they would wait for their parents, but now students meet in classrooms with their assigned teachers, which the district found to work better.

In the event of an actual crisis at another school, Southwest would dismiss its students to make room and any unable to leave right away would gather in the gym. 

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Staff members also took part in the drill, including Pound Principal Chris Deibler, who was the first to meet parents — a conscious move on the part of the district.

Lincoln Police and Lincoln Fire and Rescue were also on hand, in addition to staff from Lancaster County Emergency Management, the Nebraska Department of Education and the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department.

LPS plans to flesh out other phases of the process — including looking at how to control a large volume of parents, for example — in future reunification exercises.

"When you try to do it, it's a huge number of moving parts that have to come together," Wright said.

It's all in an effort to ensure LPS is prepared for the worst.

"If this happened tomorrow, I feel like we would be prepared," Poore said.

Calling all high school bowlers

Bowling may not be a varsity sport at LPS this winter, but that isn't stopping Glen Riedel.

Riedel, who has coached club bowling at Lincoln Southeast High School since his children took an interest in the sport, recently created the Capitol City Bowling Club as an alternative for students looking to hit the lanes this winter.

It's been a bit of a one-man show organizing the league. Riedel is still gauging interest from students for the league, which would begin Nov. 15 and last through the end of January.

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But because of the short timeline to roll out the league, Riedel said it's been difficult to reserve bowling lanes for matches — many are already booked in the weeks ahead. So he plans to hold three tournaments over the course of the season and has worked with local bowling alleys to find available dates.

Families would pay a small fee to participate, and Riedel has found volunteer coaches willing to help.

Ideally, Riedel is looking for 21 bowlers from each of the six public high schools so each school can have boys and girls teams and a mixed lower-level squad.

Students can register by emailing CapitolCityBowling@gmail.com by Nov. 10.

Riedel says he foresees the league being a temporary, one-year alternative after LPS decided not to sanction bowling for a second straight year. 

The Nebraska School Activities Association approved bowling in 2020, and many schools in the state now field varsity teams. That left club bowlers in Lincoln in a lurch because of a lack of nonsanctioned teams to compete against. There was no club competition last school year, although bowlers did meet over the spring and summer for informal competitions.

Riedel and a cadre of parents and students voiced their concerns at recent Lincoln Board of Education meetings, but the district said it didn't have room in its budget to add the sport.

Riedel said he later met with board member Kathy Danek and other district officials to see how bowling could be financed in the future. 

He left that meeting more hopeful.

"I do believe that things will progress that way," he said.

By the numbers

$3,925,234 — Amount raised by the LPS Foundation in the 2020-21 school year.

423 — The number of LPS students in quarantine this week. That's down about 70% from a pandemic high of 1,453 quarantined students the week of Aug. 29-Sept. 4.

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Contact the writer at zhammack@journalstar.com or 402-473-7225. On Twitter @zach_hammack

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K-12 education reporter

Zach Hammack, a 2018 UNL graduate, has always called Lincoln home. He previously worked as a copy editor at the Journal Star and was a reporting intern in 2017. Now, he covers students, teachers and schools as the newspaper’s K-12 reporter.

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