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December 27, 2012

Southern Indiana schools confident in safety of students


> SOUTHERN INDIANA — 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.”

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