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School safety issues still in need of solutions

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Incidents like the Van Buren Elementary School shooting, which took place earlier this year, have placed safety issues regarding Clay Community Schools on the front-burner for many officials. Times Staff File Photo.
The final question in examining the state of security within the Clay Community School corporation is where does the corporation go from here, and who needs to be involved.

Administrators in the corporation admit there is a long road to the point where the procedural and physical security measures are viable in today's climate.

"When you move a system, it takes time to do that," Superintendent Dan Schroeder said.

Since early 2007, the corporation has provided staff workshops, brought in state level advisors to evaluate the schools and fixed as many physical security issues as financially possible.

There still remains major issues to be solved.

School board President Terry Barr said through e-mail, "I don't feel that we are current in our safety procedures or precautions. Times have changed, our concerns have changed, and we are still operating as we did in the past. Our buildings were built in another age, and need to be upgraded."

Procedurally, the corporation needs to address continued staff training, community and parent cooperation and the role of law enforcement.

Schroeder has encouraged every building principal to complete the School Safety Specialist Academy training. Currently, due to Department of Education limits, all but four principals have completed the training.

All who are certified will need to continue training to maintain their certification.

This is in addition to the training that Corporation School Safety Specialist Lynn Stoelting has completed.

But Stoelting has indicated that she alone cannot complete all of the duties of Schools Safety Specialist in addition to her primary role of school nurse.

The corporation could name a principal of a building who has already been trained as Specialist, send another staff member to be trained or it could hire a person to solely be the Safety Specialist.

The decision then becomes paying and training a new employee or adding on duties to another administrator or staff member.

Barr indicated that she has concerns about additional security duties of staff in buildings, specifically teachers who feel they are expected to also be security guards.

"Especially in our secondary schools, it has become too much to expect the staff that is hired to teach also must work security…I think our staff needs additional resources to maintain control," she said.

Law enforcement relies on the administration and teachers to be the "eyes and ears" within the school facilities, according to Clay County Sheriff Department Deputy James Switzer.

It has been suggested to the corporation to hire security or law enforcement to be stationed in the facilities, to alleviate the pressure on staff to monitor the school.

The corporation must then find a way to fund the security presence, as well as determine which buildings would be monitored.

The corporation must make decisions about the roles of staff, administrators and law enforcement in keeping the schools secure, as well as the roles of parents and the community.

On May 1, 2007, North Clay Middle School received a bomb threat. Law enforcement responded to the middle school in high numbers to do a walk through of the building.

Some students entering Northview High School, which had experienced a rash of gang activity at the time, assumed the police presence was in response to a gang incident.

Students text-messaged and called their peers on their cell phones, and rumors of a student with a gun, a gang brawl and even a death circulated.

The rumors eventually reached parents and the media, causing a panic.

Law enforcement then had to deal with parents swarming to Northview to pick up their students, as well as media questioning.

Had there been a bomb at North Clay, the original site of the security issue, parents and media members would have been in danger because of the response to rumors.

"Not only are we concerned about the safety of our students, but the safety of parents as well," Schroeder said.

Schroeder is asking parents to take an active role in preventing another incident of rumors creating panic.

First, members of the corporation-wide school security committee are putting together a letter to parents about lockdown procedures, and when students can be picked up in an emergency.

Also, a phone-line for parents and media notification procedures have been established to make sure only information verified by the corporation reaches parents and media.

Schroeder asks parents to talk with their children about the use of cell phones within the school building, and to cooperate with the schools if more strict restrictions on phone use are put into place.

As school board member Jim Guy mentioned at the last board meeting, more security means fewer rights.

Another way parents can assist in security at school is to encourage students to report anyone indicating the desire to do harm, whether joking or not, to staff.

Dep. Switzer said communication between parents, students, administrators and law enforcement creates a "cycle of safety," and as communication increases, the level of safety provided will improve.

"When you are imbedded in a school corporation this size, you have to involve various stakeholders to make an in-depth plan," Schroeder said.

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