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December 27, 2012

Southern Indiana schools confident in safety of students

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Concerns about school security policies, practices and equipment have already come into question by parents in Southern Indiana following the shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.

District officials from the four school corporations in Clark and Floyd counties said while they’ll continue to learn from the shooting earlier this month, they feel confident about the safety of their students and already have some new measures in place to further protect them.

Rumors of violent threats were reported at most districts in the days before Christmas break. Some were turned over to local police, but were determined unfounded.

But they also said lessons from this latest tragedy will keep them reviewing their policies and may bring more changes as they enter the new year.

New Albany-Floyd County Consolidated School Corp.

Bill Wiseheart, director of facilities, said he’s one of the district’s school safety specialists. Under state law, each district is required to have at least one and they attend an academy twice a year to stay in line with current security procedures.

He said while the district has followed best practices as outlined by the Indiana Department of Education and information continues to come from the shooting, districts need to be careful in how they digest the news.

“We got a lot of stuff coming from there that may not necessarily be accurate,” Wiseheart said. “So in the next few weeks and months, we may have more accurate information to work with.”

At the district’s last board meeting on Dec. 17, two parents voiced concerns about security at some of the elementary schools. They said no one had to be buzzed in at the front door or check in with a secretary and they were concerned at the relative ease with which someone could walk into the building.

Wiseheart said while the secondary schools employ door locks and a system that runs a background check against sex offender databases and domestic violence records on adults signing in, the elementary schools aren’t far behind on getting those security measures.

“I think what we talked about at the school board is the secured entry piece,” Wiseheart said. “Some buildings, you have to be buzzed in before you can access the facility. We have some elementaries we haven’t gotten to yet. We’re taking care of our larger population schools and working our way down, but by the end of Jan, our plan is to have all our schools secured with a buzz-in system.”

He said new doors and locking systems have already been ordered for some of the schools, but more security devices will continue to be purchased out of the district’s security fund, which replenishes itself year after year.

Bill Briscoe, assistant superintendent, is another of the district’s safety specialists. He said administrators are already taking a look at policies and seeing what they can tighten up.

“We’re reviewing every one of our plans, that started immediately on Friday [Dec. 14],” Briscoe said. “In any area where we feel there’s a weakness that can be addressed, we’ll take a look at it.”

He said some of the corporation’s policies have already been helpful, though. The call-in hotline and anonymous text and email tip systems have been up and running for years, he said, but they’re still seeing what else they can do.

“Regardless of where you are, you can always improve what you do with education and safety,” Briscoe said. “We’d be remiss if we didn’t try to get better every day.”

He also said local law enforcement could help train teachers how to react in the event of an active shooter on campus, with discussions on that training continuing.

“Those are some things we’ve been weighing this week and considering for the future,” Briscoe said. “We have had constant communication with the local police this week.”

Briscoe said he will continue to talk to police to see what kind of training they can offer and what will be most valuable to the corporation.

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