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.

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School Safety: Arming Teachers

I’ve now written a couple of articles on securing our schools. Writing on this topic would be incomplete without also covering the topics of putting guns into the hands of teachers. The idea of arming teachers has been suggested by many people, including the President of the United States. Unlike the President, there are many people and organizations that are actually qualified to comment.

While I’m not one of the qualified sources, I am qualified to share what I’ve learned from a few of them. Simply put, many qualified sources have stated that putting guns into the hands of teachers is not the right decision when it come to the overall safety and well-being of the kids.

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) released a press release on the topic of arming teachers. In their release, they clearly stated that they are against the idea arming teachers with guns. This organization is focused on getting specially trained police officers into schools, so arming teachers would reduce the need for their services. This is why it is more important to look at the reasons that indicate why arming teachers doesn’t make sense.

Where’s the Gun?

If as school decides to arm their teachers, then that raises the question of where will guns be kept? For the gun to be useful, it must be readily accessible. Most important, however, is that any guns must also be absolutely secure. Keeping a gun secure while maintaining its accessibility in a classroom setting would be a monumental challenge, especially in the lower grade levels where teachers tend to be more actively engaged with the kids and where the kids are active within the room.

Police and school resource officers keep their guns with them. An elementary school teacher that interacts with the kids with close contact would have a hard time maintaining the security of a gun strapped to their body.

There are also questions about the visibility of a gun strapped to a teacher. Assuming a gun could be safely and securely carried by a teacher, then there is a concern about whether this would cause additional anxiety for the kids in the classroom.

Level of Training

It is uncommon to see civilians or others carrying guns. When it comes to police officers, a gun is a part of their uniform. It is a common occurrence to see a gun on an officer. More importantly, police officers are given training that on not only using a weapon, but also on how to overcome anyone trying to take their weapons.

In fact, police officers receive extensive and regular training. The area of security is a core focus of what police officers do and not an “add-on” like it would be for teachers. Officers that are placed in schools, School Resource Officers (SROs), are not only trained as police officers, but they also receive additionally training that includes coverage of the following:

  • Emergency Operations Plans
  • CPTED/Vulnerability Assessments
  • Threat Response
  • ALICE Lock-down 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

Training with guns is a regular part of officers’ core job. It is not something tacked onto that they do, but rather it is a core part of their profession.

Teachers are trained on kids and teaching. Training for teachers centers on interacting and educating kids. While some of this overlaps with some of the items listed above for SROs, teacher training generally doesn’t include working with the same level of threat responses and emergency operations that police officers receive.

Mental Preparedness

Teachers work within a classroom with kids. That’s a special skill that teachers are expected to do. Being mentally prepared to wrangle 20 to 30 kids and keep them focus is a skill that takes is backed by years of training. Teachers are trained to be mentally prepared to work within the classroom setting and to engage kids in learning.

Police officers training is related to the topics mentioned earlier, as well as training on marksmanship and the use of firearms. This police training along with regular practice is intended to help with their physiological response in high stress situations. Because teachers would not have this same level of regular training, the chances for making a mistake is much higher, especially in a high-stress situation.

School shooter situations tend to happen in areas with a lot of people. Shooting a gun in a crowded area such as a classroom or hallway can be very risky because there is a chance of hurting an innocent bystander. Again, part of the training for police officers is on knowing when the risks are too high to even use a gun.

Mistaken Identity

While School Resource Officers dress as police officers, teachers don’t. If a police officer were to respond to an issue at a school, it would be very easy for them to mistake a teacher for an armed assailant. The result is that such a case of mistaken identity could cause intense situations or worse the mistaken identity could result in a teacher being shot by an officer.

Sending Police into Schools

NASRO president Don Bridges has commented that “We can’t send officers into schools without being trained.”  In my article, “Safety and the Students at Hamilton Southeastern Schools: Part 1”, I provide more details on what School Resource Officers are. SROs are specially selected police officers selected to work within schools. Before starting at a school, they are given additional training specific to schools and school issues.

In Summary

NASRO recommends that only trained officers carry arms on school property. Rather than trying to turn teachers into officers, the better recommendation is for more School Resource Officers to be put into schools. Let people do the jobs they are trained and qualified to do. Let teachers teach, and let School Resource Officers help keep the schools safe!

Belief that teachers can be trained to be effective with a gun without adding added new and possibly deadly risks to a school is belittling to the training that School Resource Officers receive. As one police officer in Fishers stated that situations involving guns are hard for police officers to handle even with the regular training and practice they receive. Putting the expectation on someone with less training and mental preparedness would increase the risk of something more going horribly wrong in what is already a bad situation.

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