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County security project nearing end

The final piece of a two-year project to bolster security at Colfax County offices is expected to fall into place when County Attorney Denise Kracl submits bids for a plan she believes will continue to provide easy access to the public while ensuring the safety of employees.

“The office will remain very open to the public, but we have to have safety,” said Kracl, who will present bids for the security project to the Colfax County Board of Commissioners at its meeting next week.

"I've never felt threatened, but there have been some folks who have needed to be asked to leave the office," Kracl said.

The county attorney’s office, made up of a reception area, conference room and two private offices, is located across the street from the courthouse. The office has five employees, two full-time, including Kracl, and three part-time.

The courthouse can been seen through office’s one outside door and a window facing south.

“I’m glad we’re the last county office (to have a security upgrade),” Kracl said. “Our plan has been a year in the making after watching all the other county offices go ahead of us.”

Kracl said she’d like to have the board approve a winning bid at the next meeting and have the project completed by the end of the county’s budget year in June.

The security project calls for bulletproof glass windows to shield employees in the reception area, installation of a solid inner-office wall to replace a floating structure and a door with a key code locking system to separate the public area from the private offices.

There will be no square footage added to the attorney's office building, but Kracl plans to open up some space by reconfiguring where files and electronics equipment are located. There are currently 10 file cabinets crowding the reception area and another seven lining conference room walls.

“We’re required to keep so many files for extended periods of time,” said Kracl while referencing a local district court case in which a convicted state prisoner suddenly decided to appeal after being behind bars for 27 years.

County commissioners embarked on the two-year security project as a reaction to an incident in 2015 in which a handcuffed defendant briefly escaped from authorities at the courthouse.

In June 2015, a handcuffed Rogelio Barba was able to get away from a deputy and flee out the courthouse’s east door following a bond hearing.

Barba was recaptured without incident less than five minutes after he fled the courthouse. The defendant was later sentenced to seven to eight years in prison for a drug conviction.

In September 2016, the commissioners approved a security system that allows county and district court judges and other courtroom personnel to automatically lock down courthouse exits in the event of an attempted escape.

The system for the third and fourth floors of the courthouse consists of electronic controls judges can operate from behind the bench and wireless buttons courtroom bailiffs and deputies can attach to their uniform shirts or belts.

In February, the board approved contracts for beefing up security in the treasurer’s and planning and zoning offices.

Contracts for the assessor's, county clerk's and sheriff’s offices have already been completed.


News
SCHS students learn demands of parenthood

Yareth Chavez and Veronica Ardon didn't get much sleep on a recent Wednesday night.

The 17-year-old Schuyler Central High School students had their turns taking home a RealCare Baby, an infant simulator that cries when it needs to be rocked, burped, fed or changed.

“The hardest part is figuring out what they want,” said Chavez.

Ardon was awakened three times by her baby — at 2, 4 and finally 6:15 a.m.

“It’s just exhausting for one night,” she said. “Now imagine how exhausting it would be for the rest of your life.”

Like many students in the family and consumer sciences class, Ardon and Chavez learned a valuable lesson.

“Not to have a baby until you’re mentally ready,” Chavez said.

Students picked up their electronic babies at the start of the school day and cared for them through classes, after school, overnight and into the next school day. The high-tech dolls track how quickly students respond to their cries and how gently they’re handled.

Jaqueline Ciriaco, 16, had previous experience with child care while helping with her little sister.

“I thought that it’d be easier since it’s a doll,” she said.

Then at lunch, she didn’t support the simulator's head properly.

“The baby started screaming,” said Ciriaco.

SCHS family and consumer sciences teacher Mary Breedlove said the class of young women was really invested in the project.

“They were very anxious mothers,” said Breedlove.

Chavez, Ardon and Ciriaco all said they heard phantom baby cries, a common occurrence among new mothers. Sometimes in the shower, during an activity and even when their baby wasn’t with them, they thought they heard crying.

Another similarity to motherhood is the need to find day care. Some teachers allowed the babies in their classrooms, but others, particularly those conducting tests, didn’t.

Students had to rely on family members and friends to look after their babies while they were in class. How those caregivers treated the baby affected their grade, similar to how child care impact's real life.

Jessica Millan, 16, is glad it was just a temporary experience.

“The next morning, I was ready to be done,” she said. “I think being a teen mom would be so hard.”

Another thing Breedlove discussed with the students is the social consequences that come with being a young mother.

Breedlove had her first pregnancy when she was 25, married, employed and owned a home, but she looks younger, so she got negative attention from strangers.

“People would say, ‘Oh, what a shame with these teen moms.' Not to me, but loud enough that I could hear,” Breedlove said. “People would say snarky things.”

In addition to calling on parents and friends, Breedlove said the girls helped each other with carrying bags and babies to classes.

Ardon said the experience made her realize the importance of having a support network and how hard raising a child without one would be.

“I want to know how single parents do this alone,” she said. “They deserve some award for parent of the year.”


News
Schuyler studying bilingual education

One of the initiatives in Schuyler Community Schools’ strategic plan is to consider developing a bilingual education program.

Superintendent Dan Hoesing said the district has been looking into bilingual education since 2015, and it was included in the strategic plan approved March 20 following several months of review.

Hoesing and David Gibbons, the district's director of student services, were especially motivated that day after attending the 2017 National Association for Bilingual Education Conference in Dallas.

“It was a call to action,” said Gibbons.

Gibbons has been visiting schools with bilingual education programs since 2015. He emphasized that there are many different models for this type of program and the district has to choose what works best in Schuyler.

“We need to be very deliberate in how we set up this program,” he said.

Hoesing was shaken by what he heard at the conference.

“Many bilingual schools used to have high performance in elementary schools and low performance in middle school and high school,” said Hoesing, "because they sacrificed content in elementary school in favor of learning the language and that catches up with them in middle school and high school.”

The trend Hoesing described matches the district’s state testing trends for the past few years. The superintendent said he's now worried the district wasn’t serving these students as well as school officials thought.

“It was the most uncomfortable conference I’ve been at,” he said.

One of the next two steps for the initiative are to form a dual language leadership team that includes Gibbons, Schuyler Elementary School Principal Bill Comley, two teachers and at least one school board member.

Together, they'll work to identify the program's goals, select the best model for SCS and reach out to staff, parents and community members to ensure the program is implemented properly.

The plan also includes initiatives to improve the Spanish proficiency of English speakers. Schuyler Central High School Principal Stephen Grammer has an upcoming deadline to test the proficiency level of students studying Spanish IV.

Another action item is to gauge interest in Spanish classes at Schuyler Middle School so students reach a higher proficiency level by high school.

Gibbons said he hopes to see the bilingual program implemented by the 2018-19 school year.


News
Man gets prison for meth-fueled burglaries

COLUMBUS — A 27-year-old Fremont man was sentenced to prison for an attempted burglary of a local car wash in November that capped a four-week, methamphetamine-fueled blitz of break-ins in Platte, Colfax, Washington, Dodge and Douglas counties.

Platte County District Court Judge Robert Steinke on Friday sentenced Dylan O’Brien to one to two years in prison for his convictions in the Nov. 15 attempted burglary at Columbus Car Wash, 3454 39th Ave., and possession of burglar’s tools.

O’Brien’s sentencing in Platte County came two days after the defendant was sentenced to five to eight years in prison for two Colfax County burglaries earlier last fall.

Attempted burglary is a Class 3A felony, punishable by a maximum of three years in prison. Possession of burglar’s tools is a Class IV felony that carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

O’Brien was also initially charged with drug and habitual criminal charges in the Columbus case. The state’s habitual criminal law provides for mandatory minimum and maximum sentences ranging from 10 to 60 years.

Steinke, following a plea deal worked out by Colfax and Platte prosecutors and the defense, ordered the local sentence to run concurrently with the Colfax County prison term. Burglary cases in Washington, Dodge and Douglas counties remain pending.

O’Brien’s sentencing this week in the Platte and Colfax cases represents his third prison term. He was previously sentenced to prison in 2009 and 2011, both times for crimes the judge said stemmed from his addiction to meth.

Steinke gave O’Brien a choice on Friday.

“It would appear you are a habitual criminal (with a meth addiction). If you continue on this path, you’ll end up sentenced as a habitual criminal,” Steinke told the defendant standing before him in an orange jumpsuit and plastic sandals.

“It’s your liberty versus your addiction, that’s your choice,” the judge said.

O’Brien was given credit for 136 days served in the county jail since his Nov. 15 arrest.

The attempted break-in at Columbus Car Wash damaged a doorknob and deadbolts.


O'Brien