News and Tribune

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.

Greater Clark County Schools

New policies are already implemented since the shooting in Newtown, Conn., and more security equipment is on the way, said school safety specialist Chris Ralston.

Ralston is one of Greater Clark’s seven safety specialists. He said while only five schools previously required guests to get buzzed in by the office, all schools will have their outer doors locked by the end of Christmas break.

He said the news out of Sandy Hook Elementary School put districts across the country on the lookout for how they handle security, with Greater Clark already looking for new procedures that could help.

“I think anytime something like that happens, it’s an eye opener,” Ralston said. “You kind of get complacent and that’s just the nature of human beings, but it wakes us up and makes us realize we need to focus on it a little more. They were doing everything right and this still happened, so we just need to step up our efforts even more.”

And a new policy had gone into effect before break to have teachers keep doors to their classrooms locked during the day. He said though doors were always closed before, the new policy eliminates the step of locking doors should there be an emergency.

He also said active shooter training has already been conducted in the district, but more opportunities to train teachers may come soon.

“We had discussions with local law enforcement partners [Dec. 17] and set up something at the first of the year to talk about what kind of training and exercises we can do together.”

West Clark Community Schools

Just like other school districts, West Clark has school resource officers — uniformed and armed police officers — in some of its schools. John Reed, assistant superintendent and school safety specialist, said

having an officer in schools that students get to know can help security culture in schools.

“I feel real good about the fact that we do have officers available and the conscious effort on the teachers part to always be aware,” Reed said. “I think that is reflected nowhere better than with what we had with the tornado in Henryville.”

But with statements from the National Rifle Association calling for more armed guards in every school district, Reed said that can have an adverse effect on student morale, making buildings feel more like military institutions than schools.

Even worse, he said, the risk of collateral casualties also has the potential to rise with more armed people in a building.

“What the research is saying that if you have lots of folks with guns and you have someone coming in shooting, now you have more guns and you have to worry about the crossfire,” Reed said. “You really have to be thinking about how many guns you want going off in a school building.”

But he said West Clark is also one of the districts to employ new security equipment. To enter a school, a guest must push a call button outside an entrance. That activates a camera that front desk staff can see and then allows them to choose whether to allow that person to enter or not.

He also said should the front desk staff be unavailable, the district’s central office can also see who’s at a door at any of their schools, then get in touch with the staff to let them know there’s a visitor.

But in case a student or teacher tries to let someone else in from a different entrance, there’s another back up plan in place there.

“You can say you have the doors locked, but what’s to keep a kid to prop a door open for his buddy? Any door that’s propped open sends an email to the principal,” Reed said. “It identifies the door that’s open and the length of time it’s been opened.”

He said another system implemented — but not because of the shooting in Newtown — is one that allows schools to send mass mails or text messages to parents with any information they want to disperse, including a security breach or any other emergency.

But he said other adjustments will continue to be made. He said in the case of Silver Creek High School, there are more entrances than most of their schools, so security camera placement may be adjusted there.

He said he also has concerns about any misinformation coming from the shooting, so lessons will continue to come from what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“Right now, I can’t say that there’s anything that we will do differently at this point other than we have police more available around the school this next couple of days,” Reed said. “But as all the details come out from this shooting, we’ll study it and we’ll make any adjustments necessary that we learned from that incident.”

Clarksville Community Schools

With just three schools to secure, superintendent Kim Knott said the consistency of procedures with her schools are in good shape. With a new agreement to add a resource officer to go between each of the buildings, she said the district is on solid ground for securing its students.

But she acknowledged some changes that could make safety better for the schools.

“I don’t know that we have any school that’s any less secure than another,” Knott said. “Sometimes we have more up to date alarms and cameras than we do in some buildings. We have web capture in some buildings and not others. We have procedures in place, but in some cases, the equipment might be dated.”

But that’s about to change. She said talks have been initiated with security experts about how to get the most out of their money for new security equipment.

“Overall, I think our security procedures and practices are solid,” Knott said. “Fundamentally, I think they’re very strong. We clearly have a procedure in place where visitors do not have access to our facilities without a buzz-in to enter. That’s been in place for some time now since I’ve been here.”

She also said training to teachers could become available to help them learn how to react in various emergency situations.

“One of the things we discussed with the Clarksville Police Department is the whole concept of mock scenarios and situations,” Knott said. “I think we’ll look very seriously into staging those to give our students, teachers and community a look at what that looks like.”

She said aside from updating some of the cameras and other equipment, the district should be fine in the case of an emergency.

“The partnerships we have with police have really paid off this week, the dividends have come out with our students, teachers and staff,” Knott said.