The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. caused some local schools to review their security plans, but officials need to answer questions about priorities and practicality when it comes to safety measures.
Elkhart and Goshen school systems, like others in the area, ramped up security at their schools Monday, April 15, because of a threatening message found in an Elkhart Bureau of Motor Vehicles restroom stall. Extra measures continued through the rest of that week.
Going forward, the schools are reviewing procedures, but aren’t committing to major overhauls.
Doug Thorne, Elkhart’s executive director of personnel and legal services, said that Elkhart Community Schools can’t broadcast all of its security measures, in case it would be used to do harm to someone in a school, but that finances are an issue when looking at these issues.
Elkhart could have a police officer in each school building every day, but it would cost more than $1 million, Thorne said. “Is that the best use of taxpayer money?”
It could be, he said, but it would result in needing to employ fewer teachers, which would mean larger class sizes.
Local police departments provided extra patrols near schools on the Monday of the threat, but Goshen Superintendent Diane Woodworth pointed out that, in the long term, that would cost those departments more money to continue and, in turn, also cost taxpayers more.
The amount of security in schools connects to a broader community discussion about schools.
“What do we as Elkhart County want our schools to look like?” Thorne posed. “Do we want our schools to look like juvenile detention centers or do we want our schools to be a place where kids feel comfortable and safe?”
“Safety doesn’t always look like barbed wire fences,” he said.
He noted that it’s a question of “how far you want to go.” Schools could eliminate outside recess and athletic events, he said, but those are a core part of the community.
“We’re going to continue to work with the Elkhart Police Department and the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department to evaluate our safety procedures,” Thorne said.
Woodworth said that she had arranged with the Goshen Police Department to do a walk-through and review of all of Goshen Community Schools’ buildings. It happened to land the Wednesday following the Monday that school attendance was down because of the threat found in January.
Woodworth said that specifically for Goshen Community Schools, police recommended adding more security cameras. Administrators are also looking at renovating the main entrance at Goshen Middle School so that visitors would need to check-in with school personnel as soon as they enter the building. School board members and administrators talked at the school board meeting Monday, April 22, about how limited funding for building improvements and maintenance could make that difficult to do.
NorthWood High School is also renovating its main entrance for security reasons.