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School leaders taught more aggressive approach to safety

"You have to think about every possible scenario," said one local principal.



Posted on Feb. 23, 2014 at 4:28 p.m.

When something bad happens at a school, it's often the principal who is on the front lines.

Robby Morgan, assistant principal at Chandler Elementary School in Goshen, said that's on his mind as he goes through school safety training each year in Indianapolis.

"When you work in any school, but especially an elementary school, the kids' safety is always your number one priority," he said. "Hopefully it never happens, but if it does hopefully my first instinct would be to protect the children. And even if that saves one life, it's worth it."

Morgan said school leaders are getting different training now than when he first attended in 2006.

"When I first started going, a lot of it was being very reactive to things that were happening, whereas now they are talking about being proactive, trying to think ahead ... and preventing something that may happen," Morgan said.

He said what to do in case of a school shooting is always included in the training, but it's not the main focus.

The two days of training center on Internet safety, laws that affect schools and dealing with gangs and parents who get out of hand, he said.

"The biggest thing I've learned is being diligent with your staff, keeping them updated and making sure they know the procedures," Morgan said.

He learned how important it is to make each visitor to the school building sign in at the front office and pick up a name tag so visitors can be easily identified by other adults at the school.

"And any adult that sees someone without a tag, (they should) stop them," Morgan said. "That makes (potential problem-causers) uneasy, like someone is watching them."

Lynne Peters, principal of Model Elementary in Goshen, attended the safety training for the first time last fall. She said she was struck by the realization that doing a lot of drills doesn't necessarily make her staffers and students ready for an emergency.

"They asked the question, 'Are you prepared for an emergency or are you prepared for a drill?'" she said.

Model, like other schools, performs fire drills, lockdowns and more to practice for an emergency situation. But since attending safety training, Peters said she's taken another look at how the school performs drills.

Now, drills are unannounced and planned for times when there's a lot going on, she said. Also, the school is moving toward doing lockdown drills more frequently.

"Whether we are ready or not will save lives," Peters said."The safety of the people in this building rests on me, to make sure we can act calmly in a crisis. I want to know that I've done everything I can to prepare."

The school has also started using a new method of locking classroom doors. All of the doors can be locked only from the outside — forcing a teacher to leave her classroom, step out into the hallway, and lock the door, which is not ideal in an emergency.

So now the school has magnetic strips over the door latch in every room. The doors are always locked, but the magnet keeps the lock from sliding into place. If teachers needed to lock down quickly, all they have to do is move the magnet.

"You don't even have to open the door all the way," Peters said, demonstrating on her office door.

Goshen Community Schools recently accepted a $50,000 grant for school safety from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Bob Evans, assistant superintendent, said the grant would likely be used to install camera phones at the entrance of buildings and more cameras throughout the buildings.



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