Millard South is trying to get back to business as usual Friday at a school changed by tragedy.
In an effort to return to routine, the high school is holding classes according to the regular schedule, just two days after the shooting that claimed the life of Assistant Principal Vicki Kaspar and wounded two others. The shooter later took his own life.
Administrators said 93 percent of students - many in their Patriot school colors of red, white and blue - reported to classes today. That is only slightly below last semester's average daily attendance of 94.8 percent.
At the same time, a couple of additional police officers and extra school district administrators will be on hand to increase security. Throughout the day, teachers and staff will be prepared to help students cope, district spokeswoman Amy Friedman said.
A message has been prepared for students, Friedman said, and teachers will address any questions if they come up in class. If students get upset, teachers can suggest that they talk with counselors, who will be on hand throughout the day, she said. No special assembly will be held.
“We want to keep the routine as close to normal as we can,” she said.
The return to school has the support of Principal Curtis Case, who was seriously wounded in Wednesday's shooting but in fair condition at Creighton University Medical Center on Friday morning.
According Friedman, Case told visitors, “We've got to get school going. Please tell the staff to carry on.”
“He wants Millard South to be known as an excellent school, not as a place where a shooting took place,” Friedman said.
Authorities revealed Thursday that school nurse Carolyn Fjell also was injured Wednesday. Her graze wound was treated at the scene.
In the aftermath of the shootings, Millard Public Schools will be reviewing their security policies, Superintendent Keith Lutz told The World-Herald in an interview Thursday.
Still, Lutz said he stands behind an approach that has prevented Millard schools from developing a “bunker mentality.”
In the wake of the shootings, some have suggested adding metal detectors to help keep guns out of schools.
Asked Thursday about installing metal detectors, Lutz dismissed the suggestion, saying it wouldn't stop a suicidal student.
Lutz said Millard schools are as secure as they can be as public buildings. He said schools are safer than a movie theater or a shopping mall and are “one of the safest places other than home for the kids to be.”
“To our knowledge, we have a sound safety plan that is in place in all of our schools,” said Lutz, 63, Millard's superintendent since 1995.
Since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, Millard has joined the national trend in increasing school security.
All three Millard high schools and two middle schools are staffed with armed law enforcement called school resource officers. Unarmed guards are stationed inside front doors at high schools to meet and direct people entering the building.
All schools have security cameras and safety plans, and staff members wear identification badges. Lutz said the district works closely with Omaha police on security drills. The district started a school safety tip line and set up a mass communication system, which was used frequently Wednesday.
Asked if the school's front-door security guards should be armed, Lutz said that's why Millard has school resource officers.
Said Lutz, “It's a public school. We've tried to stay away from a bunker mentality.”
One matter Millard will review involves the shift change Wednesday of two front-door security guards. In between Robert Butler Jr.'s suspension and his return to school, the front staffing changed.
In Wednesday's incident, Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes said, the senior walked into the school without displaying the weapon and signed the visitor's log before proceeding to Kaspar's office.
Butler first was called into Kaspar's office about 8:10 a.m. Wednesday and given a 19-day suspension for damaging school property. He then was escorted from the building.
Butler and another Millard South student were caught at 12:25 p.m. Saturday driving two vehicles on the school's artificial turf football field and running track. According to a police report, a red Honda and a black SUV left numerous acceleration marks on the track and tire marks on the field. No damage estimate was provided, but each student was ticketed by police for trespassing.
Regarding the guard shift change, Lutz said he didn't know if Butler's suspension was communicated to the second guard.
Butler returned to the school around 12:45 p.m. armed with a handgun owned by his father, an Omaha police detective.
Lutz said that if a suspended student returns calmly to talk with an administrator, common sense would lead the staff to want to talk with that student.
“All our people are caring, giving people,” Lutz said.
Kraig Lofquist, Millard's director of pupil services, said Butler was treated fairly according to the district's code of conduct. District policy doesn't specify a minimum punishment for damaging school property or unlawful activity — although the maximum sanction for either offense is expulsion.
When destruction of property is involved, Lutz said, a suspension would be on the lighter side of possible punishments.
District officials declined to discuss specifics regarding Butler's suspension, although they said his actions also included trespassing and reckless behavior.
As school returns to session, the extra security and staff at Millard South will be temporary.
Along with the school resource officer, the Omaha Police Department will have a couple of extra officers on hand during arrival and dismissal Friday, said Lt. Darci Tierney, an Omaha police spokeswoman.
In addition, the school district will have extra staff present and will monitor students as they come in the building, Friedman said.
At a staff meeting Thursday, Lutz asked the group of about 100 officials whether any of them felt they could not return to work Friday, and no one raised a hand, according to a person who attended the meeting.
Staff members were told that students would be allowed to wear memorial clothing or memorabilia, if they chose, to help them through the grieving process.
The statement to be read in classrooms will address Wednesday's shooting incident and the deaths of Butler and Kaspar. Students also will be told that Case is in stable condition and resting comfortably.
Thursday at a noon vigil outside the school — one of two at the school on the day when classes were suspended — more than 300 Millard South students took time to remember Kaspar and pray for her and Case.
They sang “Happy Birthday” for Kaspar, who would have turned 59 on Thursday. As students sang, they released a half-dozen balloons into the sky.
At the evening vigil, a student announced that everyone should meet in the parking lot at 7:30 in the morning and walk in together “so nobody has to do it alone.”
Some students were looking forward to school Friday.
Senior Kevin Knudson, 18, said it's right for students to get back to business. Carrying on would honor their fallen assistant principal, he said.
Said senior Blake Headley, 17, “I think we should get back to school and move on and heal.”
“We'll get through it.”
World-Herald staff writers John Ferak and Michael O'Connor contributed to this report.
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