New school year comes with deeper safety concerns

Though not required, many schools look at security

INDIANAPOLIS - Reading, writing and arithmetic remain job No. 1 for Hoosier schools, but safety is also topping their lists of concerns. Schools are looking for ways to protect children and staff from unwanted intruders.

In an instant in 2012, schools became crime scenes.

In Newtown, Conn., 20 children were killed in December. That same year, three were students killed and six were injured at a suburban Cleveland high school.

And the year before in 2011, yet another unthinkable: One student was shot and injured at Martinsville West Middle school in Indiana.

All caught the attention of the nation and drew many calls for safer schools.

Tom Neff draws from experience on what will impact the lives of thousands of children.

"Safety is a huge issue," Neff said.

At Schmidt Associates,  Neff's company, they company renovates or remodels at least 20 buildings every year. All are designed with basic building features to minimize stranger danger.

"You have to be safe to be comfortable to be able to learn and teach," Neff said.

He says it’s critical schools have limited entry points and one main entrance to allow staff to see who's approaching.

"There's a visual cue before a panic button is designed," Neff said.

He also believes inside the building, teachers and administrators should be able to see what's happening in the hallways and other classrooms.

"If someone wanted bulletproof windows, titanium doors and barricades like outside courthouses, you could design that,” Neff said.
   
Besides concerns with turning schools into prison-like structures, security costs money. On average, it could cost as much as $14 million to $17 million to build an elementary school in Indiana. That figure could double depending on the security features chosen. 

Design is key, but educators also invest thousands on technology to keep kids safe. For example, in one school we visited, they use the “Lobby Guard.”

You must scan your driver's license for a quick background check. If nothing turns up, you get an I.D. badge to put on your clothing and you walk into the school. If there are issues – you must leave.

Schools are spending thousands on security devices. A metal door with special latches $2,000. Bulletproof glass is $50 per square foot. And it’s $1,000 for one surveillance camera.

In a snapshot, that’s the cost of safety in a 21st century world.

There are no state mandates on what security features – such as camera and door types – districts must include in their construction designs.

However educators around the state are preparing for a situation like this: A person with a gun walks into a school and opens fire.

In a recent case, it was just a training scenario for educators in Hendricks County.

The armed gunman was actually an Indiana State Police (ISP) trooper firing blanks throughout Mill Creek Elementary School in Clayton, Ind.

Shots were fired throughout the school so teachers and administrators could hear and see what it might be like.

"I think we were all surprised at the sensory overload – the sensory reaction, the noise, the volume, the smell,” Mill Creek Community School Corporation Superintendent Jill Jay said. “It's good to go through that and be prepared."
 
ISP troopers are conducting the Safe Schools/Active Shooter program in districts around Indiana.

"A plan is only as good as your ability to implement,” ISP School Safety Liaison Dr. Rich Hogue said. “So we are providing them an opportunity for people to think a little outside of the box, and possibly (an opportunity to) look at solutions and take them back to their schools."
 
The goal is for educators to consider what they might be able to do to save students’ lives until police arrive on the scene, even if it means fighting back against the gunman.

In Hendricks County, this is not end of the training. Instead, administrators say this is the beginning of program for the future. 

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