Elkhart County education officials tout safety measures in wake of Connecticut tragedy
Posted: 12/15/2012 at 1:15 am
By: Marlys Weaver-Stoesz
All it said was “Thank you for locking the doors to our school buildings,” Allen said.
She replied by saying she was grateful for how thoughtful and aware the Middlebury School Board was several years ago to make the decision to lock all of the school corporations’ doors. All visitors must be seen through a camera by someone in the front office and “buzzed in” to access the building.
“We don’t take anything lightly to do with the safety of our children,” Allen said.
Allen said she was devastated to hear and read the news about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. “It breaks my heart,” she said.
She also applauded the Indiana School Safety Specialist Academy through which school leaders from Indiana school districts are trained in best practices and bring data and emergency management information back to their school districts.
While schools need to turn in safety plans to the Indiana Department of Education, local school leaders acknowledged that there’s no sure way to prevent a school tragedy.
“Schools are microcosms, so society’s problems come into them, too,” Diane Woodworth, superintendent of Goshen Community Schools said, also lamenting the Connecticut shooting.
School leaders work to keep schools secure by a number of measures, including only letting visitors enter buildings through the front office or after being buzzed in. Several local schools also have school resource officers.
Woodworth said that, at Goshen, there is an officer each for the high school and middle school, and a third officer for all of the elementaries.
“They get to know the students, so students use them as a resource, too,” she said. School staff members always remind students that if they ever see someone they don’t recognize or something suspicious, they can tell the resource officer.
Allen also said that officers always follow up on anything staff members hear about possible threats or issues.
Doug Thorne, Elkhart Community Schools’ executive director of personnel and legal services, said that listening to students and parents may be the most important part of keeping students and staff safe.
They are “often our first indicator that something could be surfacing,” he said. They’re often the ones that first hear a rumor or know about something that could happen.
“Obviously there is no fail-safe way to avoid incidents,” Thorne said, “but we have put in place a number of security measures” to work at preventing any local tragedies.
Trent Hostetler, a member of the board of Fairfield Community Schools, said schools all over the country will probably be taking another look at their security policies in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy. At the same time, you can’t go overboard in implementing safeguards.
“You walk a fine line because you have a free society,” he said. “You don’t want have your kids feel like they’re going to jail.”
A school district can implement all the security measures in the world, but if a ne’er-do-well is determined, the safeguards only go so far. “It can happen anywhere,” Hostetler said.
Outside Roosevelt Elementary School at the end of the school day Friday, there was some buzz about the shootings, but no overt alarm.
“Truthfully, I’m not surprised,” said a woman who would only identify herself as Noel, escorting her three kids home. “They’ve attacked every other place.”
She’s comfortable with the security in Elkhart Community Schools facilities, she said, adding that there’s a certain amount of risk in everything.
“It scares me every time the kids leave the house. Too many nut jobs out there,” she said. On the other hand, locking them up at home, “they’re not going to learn that way.”
Indiana law prohibits people from carrying guns in courtrooms or on property being used by a school for a school function. However, a 2011 state law prohibiting local guns laws that are stricter than the state’s has chipped away at what were some local restrictions.
Elkhart County officials, for instance, reversed a law earlier this year that had prohibited licensed gun owners from carrying guns inside county parks. Likewise, the same 2011 law required the county to reverse a ban on carrying licensed guns in most county facilities.
Another 2010 law allows workers to bring guns to work, as long as the weapons are in their locked vehicles.
Reporter Tim Vandenack contributed to this report.