HSE School Board Candidancy

As many people know, I’m one of the few (if not the only) people that regularly attend the school board meetings that is not either on the board or paid staff of the school system. I attend these meetings for a variety of reasons; however, the primary reason is because it is a source of firsthand information related to our schools and our city; information that impacts our kids. Our kids spend roughly a third of their day within the school system, so the decisions made by this group of people impact their lives in both positive and negative ways. With a budget twice that of the city’s, the school also has the potential to impact not only our kids, but the city around us.

I’ve been regularly asked if I will be running for a position on the Hamilton Southeastern School Board this election. While there are still a couple of days left to register, at this time I do not plan to run for a position, and thus will not be registering.

Over the years I’ve watched and noted decisions made by the school board, raised questions, and called out issues. I’ve done that without a seat at the table and plan to continue to do so. After all, it’s our kids that they are messing with. 

HSE School Safety Update

When it comes to security, Hamilton Southeastern Schools have done a lot since 2012. This includes adding secured vestibules, securing the school perimeters, the use of fobs, and more.

There continues to be a knee jerk reaction around the country when it comes to security. Unfortunately, but there isn’t just one solution to solve security in our schools. The hand-held metal detectors that the governor offered are starting to come arrive at schools; however, these are a solution fraught with more issues than even the full sized metal detectors. Even so, schools are snatching these up.

While people will often want to point to a single person to be responsible for security, HSE schools have changed the focus to empower everyone in the district all the way down to students.  In addition to students, this includes parents, staff, and members of the community including police officers, firemen, and other public departments.

Regardless of who is empowered, at the end of the day, we must deal with the “Why”. Even though many people are looking for instantaneous results on what should be done to secure schools, the issues won’t be solved until there is an understanding of why the violence is happening.

For Hamilton Southeastern Schools (HSE), additional changes are being proposed for the 2018-19 school year. HSE’s security protocols and policies are already considered among the best in the state of Indiana with HSE schools being considered a leader. Even so, safety is a topic that will receive a continuing review and changes.

I’ve written on safety in previous articles, so the list of core safety topics that were raised at the most recent school board meeting should be no surprise. The list of changes for 2018-19 include:

  • Metal detector wands
    The governor of Indiana provided metal detector wands to Indiana schools at not cost to the schools. They offer to provide one wand for every 250 students. HSE schools ordered 91 wands. (Carmel-Clay schools only ordered 30). While these wands are coming into the schools now, the principals have been told to keep these in the boxes. There is the potential for legal liability if wands are used in the wrong way. In addition to the legal issues, there also needs to be training as well as a definition of how they will and won’t (as well as can and can’t) be used.
  • Additional School Resource Officers (SROs)
    One of the biggest of focus for school security is School Resource Officers (SROs). As mentioned in a previous article, HSE had seven SROs in 2017-18. The plan for 2018-19 is to add two additional SROs for a total of nine. One of these has already been hired and has started at New Britton Elementary school. The other SRO has been identified, but needs his current position back-filled before they can move forward. As mentioned in a previous article, SRO positions are not ones that can be filled quickly.For HSE, the overall cost of having nine SROs will be roughly a million dollars with the school district covering half (~$497,000) of this. The school will get a $50,000 Safe Schools Grant that will also go to funding the SROs. The breakdown of this cost is spread across salary, benefits, training costs, and incidentals such as uniforms.
  • Additional ALICE Training
    The HSE schools have been doing ALICE training since 2011 and will continue the training with renewed vigor. ALICE training is done within the schools at in age appropriate manner–what is done at the high school is not the same as what is done at the elementary level.
  • Ongoing Safety Audits
    The SROs did physical safety audits for all of the schools this summer.
  • Continued Mental Health Focus
    Thirteen therapists are staffed in the HSE school buildings as part of a program with Community Health Network. A fourteenth therapist will be added in 2018-19 to address a request for more help at the high school level. We have struggling kids, and the use of mental health services has the potential to change the “why” portion of security issues.
  • Trauma Informed Care
    This is empathetic practices that works to inform teachers so that they can understand the issues specific kids might have.
  • Identity Safe Schools – Equity & Inclusion
    When students walk into the HSE schools, they need to be in a judgement free zone. Kids have different needs, and we don’t want the stress of an individual student to exceed their coping mechanisms. We want to get to any kids that are stressed or have issues at the ground level so they can get the support they need.
  • Parental Advisory Committee
    While there have been a couple of meetings around security, there is going to be a more formal parental advisory committee formed. Many people have expressed interest in being part of a committee, so a group will be formed to provide a cross section across all 21 schools. Potential candidates for being part of such committee are being vetted to make sure the right representation is established.

These are the areas that were mentioned. Part of the security process is to not share everything that is happening to secure the schools. As such, the above can be seen as the minimum updates for the 2018-19 school year. Of course, the most important thing that was stated for securing our schools was the continuing efforts to forge relationships with parents, students, and the community to keep communication open and everyone aware. The key to safety is to know that the answer to “Who is involved with school safety?” is all of us.

# # #

The Problems with Putting Metal Detectors in Our Schools

School safety has brought a number of topics to the forefront. Care needs to be taken to make sure that solutions that are applied are not simply reactive or emotional, but rather truly respond to improving school safety. Recent reactive responses range from the President of the United States saying teachers should be armed to parents starting funding pages for metal detectors in schools. Reactive solutions might feel good to most people at first, but as you dig deeper into the details, such responses can cause more issues than they solve.

Metal detectors are a reactive response to school safety. Metal detectors are simply machines that can be placed at entrances to make sure that guns are not brought into the schools. They operate by sounding a warning when a certain amount of metal passes through the detector. Good detectors will not only tell you if metal is passing through, but will also indicate which area within the detector’s sensors (a zone) the metal is passing.

In order to be most effective, you need a detector that covers multiple zones. Such detectors range between two and five thousand dollars each, with the ones recommended for schools being between four and five thousand dollars (US). The detector shown in Figure 1 has 33 zones and was available on Amazon for $4,000 at the time this post was written.


Figure 1: A walk-through metal detector

Securing a Building

Many public buildings such as court houses and airports use metal detectors. These buildings are used as examples of how metal detectors are used effectively.

There is, however, one big difference between these examples and schools.
Government buildings and airports have limited entry points. Those entry points are constantly secured. A person cannot enter without going through the specific entrance points.

In order for a school to be secure, it would need to be locked down to where nobody could ever without being checked via a metal detector. This would mean that for every event, at any time during the day, every person would need to be checked. This would include all after school activities, sporting events, and other activities that occur outside of the normal school hours. For each of these events, people would have to be checked. Additionally, all doors would need to be monitored to make sure that they are never opened or entered without a check for guns. This would require staffing not only during the school hours, but at any time anyone needs to enter a building. If there is a time when a person could open a door and let someone in without doing a check, then all of the safety that was gained with the detectors could be lost.

One suggested solution is to eliminate many of the doors  at a school. The reality is that schools were designed to provide easy evacuation in case of an emergency such as a gas leak, fire, or other situation. The high number of doors is a safety measure. Removing them, would reduce safety in the event of other situations.

The True Cost of Metal Detectors in Schools

Assuming that a school could be secured, then at only $4,000 each, it might seem inexpensive to get a metal detector. While one person has set up a funding drive to get a metal detector for each school in our area, it is important to note that the cost of one metal detector doesn’t represent the true cost for a school.

The first issue is that more than one detector is needed in most schools. As already mentioned, to be effective, you need to have metal detectors at every location where a person could enter a school. As such, buying one metal detector for each school in a district would be pointless. Rather you need one for each door. For HSE, this can 23 or more  different doors at a single high school or as many as 15 at an elementary school. For example, New Britton Elementary has 15 numbered doors. Suddenly the $4,000 cost becomes $92,000 or more for a high school and $60,000 for an elementary, assuming just one only detector at each door.

Assuming you install detectors (which might add an additional cost), you would then need a qualified person to monitor people passing through the detector. If you have 23 doors, that would mean an additional 23 people are needed to monitor each of the detectors. The salaries of 23 people would overshadow the cost of the detectors themselves.

In a district with 21 schools, if you assume 15 doors per elementary through junior high, and 23 in each high school, then you are looking at over 300 detectors and staff.

2,300 in 20 to 30 Minutes

Another issue that schools would have to address if detectors were used is the flow of people into the school. To be effective, the high schools would need to be able to process around 2,300 students through the doors in 20 to 30 minutes. If you are using 10 main doors, then that would be 230 kids per door or roughly 10 kids a minute. As long as there are zero issues, then you might be able to do a kid every six seconds; however, I’ve never seen an airport line move that fast through a single detector.

One of the issues raised with schools with detectors is that bottlenecks can cause lines to queue up outside of the doors. How do you make sure these kids lined up outside of the school door are safe?

Recess

Similar to the queues that could be created outside of doors for kids to get into a school, you also have to consider the times that kids are outside of a school building. While metal detectors might help reduce the chance of weapons getting into a school building, they won’t do anything for the kids that are outside on the playground, the track, the football field, or otherwise doing outside activities.

Metal Detectors Detect Metal

One of the comments I hear the most is from people who grew up with metal detectors in the schools they attended. They state that they had them when they were in school, so there shouldn’t be an issue using them now.
The world changed. When these people went to school, there was no 1-to-1 initiatives where every kid carried a computer – a computer made with lots of metal.

When you factor in the issue of every kid carrying a computer that will set off a metal detector, then you also need to factor in the increased amount of time it will take to get through the metal detectors as computers are removed from backpacks and processed outside of the metal detector. This not only slows down the entire process of getting kids into the schools, it also increases the need for trained people to monitor each detector since items would be getting passed around them.

“No School Shooter Has Gone Through a Locked Door.”

HSE Superintendent Dr. Bourff indicated that in the previous school district where he had worked, guns were not found in the school. Rather, tips led to guns that were hidden outside of the school. If a person hides a gun right outside of the school, then the detector isn’t going to slow them down should they decide they want to use it. While it would alert that they are there with a large piece of metal, other systems are in place within schools, such as the secured vestibules, that would be more effective.

Show the Statistics

Metal detectors have been shown to be an emotional response to school security. While metal detectors do add an additional layer to school security, statistics are needed to show they are effective in schools.

To Summarize…

The true cost of buying and operating metal detectors would be better spent on other security features including an increase in Security Resource Officers and better communication. While having metal detectors might give the appearance of better security, it only takes one door to not be monitored for a few minutes to eliminate all of the security that the detectors were expected to provide. Most indications are that metal detectors are not a viable security solution in today’s twenty first century schools. While they might give the sense of security in the same way a fake video camera does, the reality is that they are flawed when it comes to preventing the threat they are meant to stop.

# # #

Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools: Part 1

Back in March the Hamilton Southeastern School leadership reached out to individuals at each of the twenty-one schools to have a meeting to discuss security within the schools. The “school safety” meeting was focused on having a community conversation around how safe our kids are within the HSE schools.

The meeting was kicked off by Superintendent Dr. Bourff and lead by Dr. Beresford, the Assistant Superintendent of Staff and Student Services. They expected to have a forty- to fifty-minute presentation followed by two-way discussion. It was no surprise that the actual presentation of information by the district was closer to 90 minutes before the conversation started. In this post, I present many of my notes from this meeting. As you’ll see below, a lot was covered.

Recently the district had a second meeting that covered many of the same topics that was open to the public. That meeting was attended by hundreds of members of the community, numerous members of the police forces from around Hamilton County, and the mayor. The comments made at this more recent meeting were similar to the comments made in March.

Safety Procedures at Hamilton Southeastern Schools

Dr. Bourff kicked off the March meeting by indicating that there are many safety procedures in place within the HSE schools that they couldn’t share in order to protect the procedures. It was stated that there are a number of safety procedures in place and that many of the safety procedures would continue to evolve and improve.

The point person within HSE for security related activities is Dr. Beresford. (Update: Dr. Beresford is leaving HSE Schools to work for the Carmel-Clay district. As such, it is expected that a new person will be taking the role of security related activities for HSE.)

Dr. Bourff indicated that there are many layers to the safety procedures within the school system that all work together. In addition to these layers, there are many individuals within the school system that contribute to core initiatives around the safety and security of the kids.

Dr. Beresford stated, “We’re responsible for keeping your kids safe.” He went on to say that school shootings shake everyone up. Shootings not only impacts the kids and parents, but it also shakes up the teachers and administration. It is for this reason that they have a lot of people engaged in continually improving the strategy and in working with the schools and community. Many of the people leading safety initiatives attended the March meeting to present on School Safety.

Three Layers of Prevention

Dr. Beresford indicated that there are three areas of focus when discussing school safety: Prevention, Response, Recovery.

One of the most important keys to prevention of issues within the schools is to maintain positive relationships and communication. By having positive relationships, it is more likely communication will happen. There are three layers of communication that are pinnacle for reducing the chance of safety issues happening within the school.

The number one source of information around potential issues is students.

The importance of keeping channels of communication open with the students and others was emphasized as being critical. The school works hard to make sure that students are comfortable in sharing what they hear or see that might seem out of line or a bit “off”.

The second layer that provides information in the prevention of issues is communications from parents and staff. Like with students, parents and staff are more likely to see or hear something that could indicate an issue.

The third layer in the prevention is the communication that happens via other sources. This would include comments and tips that come from social media or other sources. Social media sources such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat often are used as sources to provide evidence of potential issues.

Text-a-Tip

One of the existing preventative programs currently in place is Text-Tip, which is a program that allows students, parents, or others to send text or email messages anonymously. It was indicated that these tips go through a third party that is outside of Indiana. This helps maintain the privacy of the person making the tip. Even by going through a third party, it was indicated that the system can be extremely fast and can be two-way. The administration has the ability to reach back to the third party, which can then respond back to the tipster if more information is needed.

Text-a-Tip is one of the top two or three channels for the administration to get information. It was indicated that the system is helpful beyond even security information. Text-a-Tip can be added to your mobile phone contacts under the number 274637.

Mental Health Initiatives

When it comes to school safety, mental health is a topic that is brought up as well. It was stated that “mental health is always a piece of the profile of kids that do violence.”

Within the Hamilton Southeastern schools, several mental health initiatives have been pushed to the forefront this past year. This includes each of our schools having a therapist that is available to the students. This was a direct result of the referendum dollars and a program that was set up with Community Health.

Along with the addition of therapists, there has been training within the schools. All staff have received suicide prevention training as well as CIT-Y, Critical Incident training. All of this is overseen by a director of mental health and school counseling, Brooke Lawson, who works within the Central Office.

Police in the Schools: School Resource Officers (SROs)

One of the key areas of helping secure our schools is the inclusion of School Resource Officers (SROs). There are currently seven SROs within the HSE school system. At the recent public meeting, it was stated that the district is looking to add additional SROs in the future. Lt. Mike Johnson talked at the meeting about the role of the SROs within the schools.

SROs are trained police offers that have the roles of teaching, counseling, and providing enforcement. While these are police officers, the role of law enforcement is really a minor part of what they do. They are also not disciplinarians. That is a role that the school takes on.

Lt. Mike Johnson defined SROs as:

A School Resource Officer (SRO) is a career, sworn, law enforcement officer employed by the police department or other law enforcement agency in a community-oriented policing assignment to work in collaboration with one or more schools.

The SROs are focused on building relationships within the schools with the students. Because it is a unique role, not ever police officer is qualified to become an SRO. Police officers are carefully selected for the position and then specially trained. It is because of this special training and careful selection that new SROs are not immediately available. Rather, officers selected today would be trained to be ready later in the year for the positions.

SROs go through special training, which includes 40 hours of course work beyond what they learn as a regular police officer. This training includes a variety of areas including:

  • Emergency Operations Plans
  • CPTED/Vulnerability Assessments
  • Threat Response
  • ALICE Lockdown Response
  • Trauma Informed Practices
  • Human Trafficking
  • School Law
  • Understanding Special Needs Students
  • Adolescent Mental Health
  • Violence and Victimization in Youth (ACES)
  • Policing the Teenage Brain
  • Drug Trends/Prevention
  • And more…

One of the tasks that SROs do above and beyond working within the schools is to create a list of issues they find in the schools. This can range from things as simple as broken sidewalks where someone could get hurt to concerns with student access that could cause safety issues.

Overall, the SROs are involved in many programs within the schools. Some of the programs that have evolved within the district include:

  • Safe School Teams / Safe School Specialists
  • DARE Program
  • Cops and Kids
  • CPTED
  • Explorers / Teen Academy
  • Text-a-Tip
  • Youth Mentoring
  • Books and Badges
  • Coaching
  • Mock Accidents
  • Bully Prevention
  • Pre-School Safety
  • Youth Assistance

In addition to the communication that happens with the SROs within the schools, there is also regular communication between the local police and the school leadership. Issues such as domestic violence can have an impact on a child and thus it is important for councilors and certain others within a school system to be aware of such issues.

Continue to Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 2.

Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 2

This is a continuation of the Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Part 1 article.

Safety Specialists

Christi Thomas talked about communications and the use of safety specialists within HSE. It is required by state legislation for school districts to have at least one safety specialist. HSE has 40 trained specialists on staff with at least one in each of the 21 schools.

In addition to having safety specialists, each school also has a safety plan that include an emergency reference guide. These plans are available in flowcharts for easy use to those that need them. These are not made public because, as mentioned before, their confidentiality helps in providing security to the schools.

The overall program for the safety specialist is led by the safety coordinators, Christi Thomas mentioned earlier and Ryan Taylor. Additionally, the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy (ISSSA) is used.

While school shootings have been the topic in the limelight, there are other issues that are rare, but real as well. The safety specialists don’t want to be too distracted from issues that happen more often. This can include issues such as seizures in class, missing kids, or even gas leaks. The little things that happen every day are important to manage as well as those rarer issues.

ALICE

One area that the schools focus on for safety is ALICE. More can be found on the ALICE program at www.alicetraining .com. Alice stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. It is a program that addresses methods to proactively handle a thread such as an aggressive intruder or active shooter.

While the acronym includes the phrase lockdown, the core of the ALICE training is that each situation is different and thus students and teachers need to know the options they have in dealing with situations. The ALICE training site has a lot of information for individuals, organizations, and more.

One area of ALICE that has caused controversy is the “C” for Counter. This was addressed with the statement that “If you do nothing, bad things will happen. If you do something, then bad things might happen.” The protocol of hiding in the corner is no longer considered a good approach. Distracting or otherwise taking action is considered a better approach. A reference was made to Virginia Tech, where it was noted that the kids that ran and fought were the ones that survived.

While tornados haven’t killed students in recent years, schools still do drills to keep kids safe. It was noted that there are roughly 77 million students. An average of only 11 are killed a year. Having said that, it was stated that “No bad guy has breached a locked door at a school.”

What HSE Schools are Already Doing

HSE schools are ahead of the curve on some of the programs that have been implemented in regard to safety. Again, while all the changes were not discussed, there are several key programs that have improved the safety of the schools within HSE.

Better Access Control

One of the biggest changes that occurred after Sandy Hook has been the revamping of the primary entrances to schools to give better access control. During the daytime hours, visitors are required to enter through the schools’ main entrances. In the past, small cameras were used with a buzzer for people to request entry into a building. This has been completely replaced with vestibules that were designed for a more secure entry. These include laminated glass doors that allow the office staff to see anyone requesting to enter the building. Unlike the cameras, the staff can get a full view of the person along with their body language. The previous use of buttons and cameras didn’t allow for this level of visibility.

In the few cases where the vestibules couldn’t be added, high definition cameras and other monitoring have been added to increase the visibility of who is entering.

Delay, Delay, Delay

There are also multiple sets of doors. These doors provide delays in people getting into the building. The idea of “delay, delay, delay” is a part of the security strategy. Slowing down a person’s ability to get into the school increases the time for those within the school to react.

Many of the schools have included glass walls for visibility and a more open concept. The increase of glass in school designs is a safety concern that often gets brought up. It is important to know that the entry doors and glass walls are laminated. While this is not bullet proofing, it does prevent the glass from shattering. It was stated that laminated glass walls are as safe or possibly even safer than walls made with drywall.

Background Checks

An additional safety feature is the use of background checks. All visitors to HSE schools are required to have a recent background check on file. While many people feel that background checks are silly, they are a key part of the safety strategy that started about 12 years ago. HSE currently uses Safe Visitors out of Plainville, Indiana to do the checks.

If a person has an issue on their background check, then they will not be allowed to enter the buildings during the school day. It has been stated that several people have complained about not being allowed to sit with their child at lunch, to volunteer, or to attend a class party. Regardless, the school system has indicated that if a background check isn’t clean, then a person won’t be allowed into the school.

Teachers also get background checks when they are hired as well as every five years after.

Communication

One of the areas that the district has been working to improve is communication. Communication can occur anywhere from a one-to-one level all the way up to district wide communications using. There are a variety of avenues for communicating that include the district web site that is being updated to the Skylerts that send emails and text messages. With staff, the district uses a set of redundant tools that range from telephone calls to texts to emails and emergency radios.

The school system has put in place common language in the form of the Common Language Safety Chart that is to be used when discussing issues. The following figure shows the wording used based on the level of threats that might occur.

Continuous Improvements

Safety is an area that will require constant updating. As threats evolve, so must the plans and efforts to insure the safety of the kids attending our schools. Members of the HSE school safety team do regular evaluation of school incidents that occur in other cities, states, across the country, and even internationally. There are debriefings that occur on school safety incidents. Additionally, there are regular reviews as well as an annual ISSSA certification.

This article continues with Safety and the Student at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, Q & A.