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Committee working to ensure safety in all school buildings

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Clay Community School Corporation has taken an active approach to identifying and remedying security issues in the corporation buildings.

The Safe School Committee has met several times this year, including a June 25 meeting with Indiana Department of Education Safe School Advisor, David Woodward.

Woodward assisted in crisis plan reviews, parent notification systems, emergency dismissal policies and provided a survey for each building to complete.

Also, the committee was curious about staff in-services, and if any state money could be used. Woodard proposed a regional in-service, sponsored by the Dept. of Education. Through this suggestion, Northview High School hosted an Active Shooter Workshop by Dr. Jason Winkle on Nov. 9.

The surveys were conducted in September and October 2007 to identify safety and security weaknesses in the buildings.

"One of the best things about the survey was that it utilized parents, community members, and school corporation personnel that are not in our building on a daily basis. This brought attention some things that can be easily taken for granted on a daily basis. The survey was very detailed and in-depth, so that caused us to examine and evaluate everything regarding our school safety plans," Clay City Jr./Sr. High School Principal Jeff Bell said in an e-mail to The Brazil Times.

"You just don't go in and throw money at the problem," Director of Buildings and Grounds Tom Reberger said. Reberger said the surveys provided him with a realistic plan for improving safety.

Areas surveyed included classrooms, playgrounds, office spaces and storage and mechanical rooms.

Each school sent their findings to Clay Community School Safety Specialist Lynn Stoelting, who compiled the surveys and presented the information to the school board.

The surveys covered safety issues as well as security issues, so there were many physical and tactical remedies needed. Similar problems were found at each school.

Staff, administrators and Reberger quickly addressed issues like identifying classrooms from the outside for law enforcement, staff ID badges, signage indicating visitor parking and fixing door locks.

Reberger volunteered his copy of the completed surveys to The Brazil Times, along with comments on what had been addressed as well as what needed attention.

As an example, at Clay City Jr./Sr. High School, the survey indicated the band trailer and a few trees blocked security cameras in the back. The trees have since been trimmed, and the trailer has been moved.

At the most recent school board meeting, board member Len Fischer was concerned that several classrooms in elementary schools did not have doors that could be secured during a lockdown.

Students in these classrooms, in Van Buren and Forest Park, had to be moved to the next classroom during lockdowns.

The problem originated with the classrooms being designed as "open concept" when the buildings were built in the 1950s. When the individual rooms were walled off, a 6-8 foot doorway was left open as a HVAC air return.

The open doorway was not a problem until lockdowns became procedure for emergency situations.

Immediately after the board meeting, the buildings and grounds crews began putting doors in the openings. The project should be finished during the upcoming holiday break.

Meridian, Eastside, Forest Park, Staunton and Van Buren Elementary Schools all have modular classrooms, which is a design security issue.

Other issues, like not being able to see visitors enter and exit from the office or a lack of security cameras are design problems, and must wait until a decision on a renovation plan is made.

Reberger expressed a desire to not "waste taxpayer money" by making temporary improvements that would be destroyed in a possible renovation project.

Another security issue brought up by the Safe Schools Committee is the lack of law enforcement presence on school campuses.

Clay County Sheriff's Deputy James Switzer said he'd eventually like to see an officer assigned to Northview and North Clay's campus, another to the Clay City campus and a third officer assigned to roam between the remaining six elementary schools.

Currently, officers are not assigned to any schools in the corporation.

Dep. Switzer, who was a security officer at Honey Creek Middle School, Dixie Bee and Riley Elementary Schools in Vigo County, said officer presence deters inside incidents from happening, and provides a barrier from outside issues.

The school safety committee has looked into hiring a security officer, but funding once again becomes an issue.

Dep. Switzer is not discouraged. "It is the desire of the Clay County Sheriff's Department to partner with Clay Community Schools, the administration and all staff to create a safe place for our children to learn," he said. "We have the responsibility of creating a safe place for our kids to live and learn. We have an equal responsibility as the schools."

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