OSKALOOSA ––A southeast Iowa mom and her friends have taken matters into their own hands concerning school safety, by raising $5,000 in one afternoon for a school security device known as The Sleeve.
The Sleeve is a 12-gauge carbon steel “straight jacket” for a classroom door that would open outward. It was developed by Daniel Nietzel from Muscatine, who was a teacher at that time.
Since the school shooting on Feb. 14, Nietzel said that his company Fighting Chance Solutions are busier than ever. He also explained how it all began when he was teaching.
“We had the all the school safety drills at the time with local law enforcement,” Neitzel said.
To reinforce the door he was told to tie an electric cord around the base and shelter in place. He said he tied the best knot of his life but the person portraying a shooter was able to still get in. That's when he and his friends, he said, came up with the idea for The Sleeve.
Fast forward a few years and Melissa Mahon came into the picture when her friend suggests The Sleeve to her. Mahon is from Keosauqua and is a nurse anesthesiologist that travels to Sigourney hospital as well as seven other hospitals. She has three kids in elementary school. When the school shooting happened, she and her group of friends didn't waste any time.
“We have a group of mom friends and our kids are all kind of in the same grade,” she said. “Usually we meet at the bus stop. We started a message chat on Facebook with the five of us and it was on Feb. 15."
Mahon said they were scared that morning.
“We hated to put our kids on the bus. Just hating that feeling of being scared and not having control of the situation of our kids being in harm's way and nothing's being done,” she said. “Then we were kind of brainstorming what can be done and that's when Brie had shared The Sleeve website with us and I saw that teachers developed it for teachers. We were like 'why aren't we doing this? We should do this.' It all kind of transpired really quickly that day.”
Mahon said they involved the PTO leader and began talks with the principal at Van Buren school. Local businesses even began to donate.
“We thought about waiting to just get it started and do an official fundraiser and plan it out. But that day we were like 'no, we just need to do this,'" she said. "It was initially just I'll get my kid's classroom and she was going to get her kid's classroom and we just started knocking off the classrooms to all the doors we could get [for the Sleeve]. Then area businesses started wanting to sponsor doors and it just kept snowballing from there.”
Mahon saw the donations rise to $5,000 in one day.
“It's pretty phenomenal we started this at 7 a.m. and here it is 3:00 and this what we did," she said. "We are aggravated; we hate having to do this but we felt like nobody else was doing anything. Ultimately, these are our children.”
She has been working on getting all the elementary school doors secured with the device and is working on the high school next. She said she was going to the school board that night and said they are continuing to raise money and they are at $6500 now and growing.
“The children are so innocent and naïve and then the teachers, when they are in harm's way and have to protect thirty-some kids on top of that," she said. "The weight is on their shoulders to protect those students and when all they are supposed to be doing is teaching them how to write their name but also what we do if someone comes in here with a gun. I can't believe we are putting that on the teachers' shoulders right now.”
Mahon's feelings are echoed throughout the nation at the moment. She says she is frustrated and worries about her children.
“With different administrations I thought they were going to do something maybe not today or tomorrow but we see the legislation coming forward and the campaign donations and it's just like nobody has my back right now. That's the way a lot of us feel,” Mahon said. “I think everybody gets into this blame game right after something like this happens. Well it's the guns, the mental health, the generation, the parents and everybody starts pointing fingers and blaming and attacking each other and it gets so frustrating.”
“There needs to less blame, hate and fear and more love,” she said. “ I think definitely kids are being failed by the system for sure.”
The Oskaloosa Herald reached out to Mahaska county schools to inquire if they had any knowledge or plans to get something like The Sleeve for their classroom doors.
North Mahaska School District responded, by deadline and said the safety of the students and staff are paramount.
"We have safety measures in place as well as a detailed crisis management and emergency response plan. I have seen The Sleeve on line and from advertisement and news articles," she said. “It is my understanding The Sleeve prevents the door from opening by placing the device on the closure arm and can withstand 550 pounds of pressure. We prevent opening of our classroom doors by keeping the doors locked. Teachers can have their locked doors shut in seconds. Again, the safety of our students is a top priority, so each time there is violence on a school campus, it prompts us to pause and reflect on the safety measures, such as our secure entryways and our standard response protocol we have in place. This also reminds us how important our efforts are to invest in forming trusting relationships with and among students in our schools.”
Herald Staff Writer Shelly Ragen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.