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Mason City schools activates Central Rivers crisis team after fatal fire

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fire memorial

Stuffed animals, candles and toys were left at the scene of a fatal fire at 509 N Washington Ave. in Mason City. Four children were killed in the blaze, another child and an adult were injured.

After a house fire took the lives of four students, the Mason City Community School District has activated resources to help students and staff process the situation.

Four students died in the Wednesday blaze and another was hospitalized. An adult victim also was injured. The district put out a Facebook statement expressing condolences Thursday and alerting students to the resources available.

The district wrote: "All of us at Mason City Community Schools are shaken by the loss of our students and extend our deepest sympathies to the family and those closest to them."

Along with activating its counseling staff, the district has called in local agencies, including the Central Rivers AEA crisis response team, for help.

Pat Hamilton

Hamilton

"We have resources that can help parents get through this. If their child is struggling with something, don't be scared to call your school, teacher, guidance counselor, or school administrator," said Superintendent Pat Hamilton. "Those type of people, they are going to do what they can to help."

Morning fire

Mason City firefighters responded to a fire around 5 a.m. Wednesday at a house located at 509 N. Washington Ave. When crews arrived flames were visible on the first and second floors of the house.

A press release listed the victims as John-Mikal McLuer, 12; Odin-Thor McLuer, 10; Drako-Ragnar McLuer, 6; and Phenix-Moon McLuer, 3.

John Michael, 55, and Ravan Dawn, 11, were treated at the hospital with burn injuries. Their conditions are not known.

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Mason City Fire Department and the Mason City Police Department. The Iowa State Fire Marshall will assist. No foul play is suspected.

All five of the children were enrolled in Mason City schools, ranging from Harding Elementary School to John Adams Middle School.

Central Rivers AEA crisis response team is made up of professionals with crisis training. It was the first call the district made.

"We talked about what was the plan today when people call, what do we say, and the scripts for our secretaries," said Hamilton. "They're vital in helping us through a plan."

Crisis response team

The Central Rivers AEA crisis response team has existed for many years and is made up of approximately 33 members, including six co-leads. Two designated individuals brief the others and two administrators oversee the team.

"We consist of school psychologists, school social workers, work experience coordinators, early childhood consultants, and special education consultants. That's kind of the makeup of our team," said school social worker and crisis response team co-lead Kandice Bienfang-Lee.

Central Rivers AEA Crisis Response Team

Central Rivers AEA Crisis Response Team members Kandice Bienfang-Lee, on the left, and Kami Roberts are two individuals aiding Mason City Community School District.

More than 10 members of the team are helping Mason City schools. The team evaluated how many members were needed aligned them with individual building needs.

"We may need to shift some capacity depending on needs that might surface. We often partner with any community agencies and community partners that the district might also request to be part of the response," said Bienfang-Lee.

"We do a lot of logistics planning, meeting with districts before a crisis and the middle of a crisis, to talk about best practices for dealing with certain situations dealing with supporting district's media communications and then provide support for students and staff," said school psychologist and co-lead Kami Roberts.

Services vary from covering classrooms for teachers to aligning appropriate interventions. The team also helps students get the facts about the situation to dispel rumors.

"[They are] really coaching us through the process of things that we don't think about," said Hamilton.

Each student responds differently to tragedy, according Bienfang-Lee, which can shape how a team member or school staff member helps them. A student's history can also have an effect on school response.

"[We meet with] students where they are and then continuing whatever needs to happen to support that student or group of students," said Bienfang-Lee.

Responding to needs

Parents and guardians might get questions or need to respond to the emotional needs of their student. Roberts and Bienfang-Lee gave advice based on information from the National Association of School Psychologists.

The first step is being mindful of the child's age, the words to explain the situation, and maintaining normal routines, according to Roberts. Bienfang-Lee added to be mindful of media exposure the child has.

A flyer from the National Association of School Psychologists to address student grief.

"You want to be pretty clear, even though it maybe feels uncomfortable for adults, that they died versus they're sleeping or they passed on, because for a lot of kids that's not very clear," said Roberts.

"If [parents] ever have questions, reach out to resources such as a school counselor," said Bienfang-Lee.

Hamilton says it's important for parents to know there might not be a reaction from a student until a later point in time. Not every child will react the same way.

"It may dawn on them that their classmate is not there anymore," Hamilton said. "Just know that could take weeks."

Roberts recommended parents and guardians to listen to student and affirm what they are expressing.

"It can be challenging for sure, especially as parents, guardians, and caretakers might have some of their own impact and so they are kind of managing their own emotions around an event while supporting their own child," said Bienfang-Lee.

Parents and guardians can receive support by contacting the school building their student attends or by reaching out to the administration building.

Abby covers education and entertainment for the Globe Gazette. Follow her on Twitter at @MkayAbby. Email her at Abby.Koch@GlobeGazette.com

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