In wake of Florida school shooting, local superintendents address student safety


The massacre of 17 people at a high school in southeastern Florida has been on the mind of the superintendent of Jackson County’s largest school corporation since it happened more than two weeks ago.

Seymour Community School Corp. Superintendent Rob Hooker said he has used the time since the Feb. 14 incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to develop a list of questions for administrators and school board members to discuss in their efforts to keep schoolchildren here safe.

Hooker has received input from board members and staff, and the list has grown to 25 questions for discussion and analysis.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Administrators and school board members plan to meet in an executive session Tuesday to discuss student safety. Executive sessions are closed to the public and press, but the board cannot vote on anything.

The questions — which Hooker plans to release to the public sometime after the meeting — will provide a basis for staff, students, parents and members of the community to approach school safety.

“It’s the most important conversation to have and people should have,” he said. “This is a good thing to talk about because what can we do to further protect our students and visitors?”

The meeting comes as students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to school earlier this week for the first time since a gunman opened fire, killing 14 students and three staff members. Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student of the school, has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the incident at the Broward County school, which is about 30 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale.

Hooker said the discussion could lead to a change in policies in the school system as officials weigh their options. He did not indicate what changes would be made, saying he had not spoken with the school board and wanted to include them.

“I don’t want to just say what I want to see happen,” he said.

Greg Walker, superintendent of Brownstown Central Community School Corp., said he and his staff have reviewed safety policies and procedures in the wake of the shooting.

“We made sure everybody is on board with what we need to do if there is an incident,” he said.

Walker said after the review he does not plan to implement any new policies at this time.

Hooker said currently there are multiple safety procedures in place at Seymour.

Securing a school corporation the size of Seymour’s poses challenges, but many start by limiting the number of entrances for visitors.

The school utilizes controlled entries where visitors can access the building only through a designated entrance.

Visitors must buzz into the office before entering and checking in. A secretary will let the student or staff know the visitor is there, confirm they were expecting them and then send them to the destination.

Employees enter with an authorized access card.

“Most employees have those (at Seymour),” he said. “That lets them in but also lets us know who is coming in and what time.”

Brownstown Central High School and Crothersville have similar systems in place. Medora does not.

“Everyone has to enter through the main office, and they cannot enter any other way,” Walker said.

Authorized staff use access cards, which includes information about when and at which entrance they enter.

The entry cards also can be set where cardholders can only enter at a certain time.

“Our milk delivery man has a card, and he is there generally when no one else is,” Walker said, adding the driver’s card will only work between 6 and 6:30 a.m. “If he would want to come at night, his card would not work.”

Hooker said Seymour schools have security cameras linked to the Seymour Police Department and Schneck Medical Center.

“They can take a look in the hallway,” he said.

One of the best security systems in place is the staff, Hooker said.

“We rely a lot on eyes,” he said. “We have people that are designated to keep an eye on people as they come in.”

Both superintendents said if anyone sees something that doesn’t seem right, they must let someone know.

“I believe the majority of our students are comfortable saying something to a teacher or administrator,” Hooker said.

He added the school system may explore a tip line for students to report incidents.

Walker said he and staff tell students to use the “see something, say something” method.

“I absolutely do,” he said.

The practice helped ease a potentially dangerous situation at the school when a student brought a loaded handgun into the building.

“The teacher alerted the administration and counselors, and they were able to get the young man and talk with him and allowed that potentially dangerous situation to be avoided,” Walker said. “Being a smaller school, our staff is able to notice when something is different with a student.”

Both Brownstown and Seymour have policies to address mental health in the school.

If a student is having a mental health episode or another student or faculty suspects they are, they are encouraged to report it to a school counselor or administrator.

Parents are contacted and meet with staff and the student.

After an analysis, students who still need help are referred to service providers, such as Centerstone, a nonprofit provider of community-based mental health care, in Seymour.

If a student is in crisis, Seymour sends them to the emergency room.

“We’re doing well with what we have,” Hooker said.

Walker said a similar meeting would take place, and if additional assistance is needed, Centerstone is contacted for treatment.

Seymour utilizes three school resource officers — one at the high school, one at the middle school and one for the five elementary schools.

Brownstown has one resource officer for its three schools. Walker said the grant to fund the officer was lost a couple of years ago, and they applied for a smaller grant through the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.

“The town of Brownstown then pretty much provides us with an officer,” he said. “Chief (Tom) Hanner makes that a big priority to provide us an officer, even in the year we didn’t have the grant.”

Both have lockdown drills each semester for active shooter situations.

Seymour had multiple practices last week, and Brownstown will have its regular drill soon.

“We’re all at the same table here working on safety issues,” Hooker said.

Roger Bane, superintendent of Medora Community School Corp., said there has not been a school board meeting since the Florida shooting, but he plans to present a few options to trustees.

One is to install metal detectors at entrances, and the other is a technological program to quickly contact law enforcement.

“It’s an app called School Guard,” he said. The system allows teachers and administrators to download a phone application on a smartphone and press a panic button if there’s an active shooter situation. The application will send a notification to on-duty law enforcement within a certain radius. The idea is to improve the response time.”

Bane said it is reasonably priced in terms of safety with a $1,000 setup fee and a $99 monthly fee. The ideas are all part of a plan to prepare for an active shooter situation.

“We prepare for situations the best we can and hope it doesn’t happen,” he said.

Bill Abbott, chief of the Seymour Police Department, said he feels his department is prepared for an active shooter situation if it were to happen.

“It’s nothing new to us here as far as active shooter response and planning,” he said, adding school shootings have been a topic of conversation since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 when two students killed 13 and themselves at the school in Colorado.

The department also has real experience in an active shooter incident. On March 10, 2016, Qing Chen, 37, of Seymour, fatally shot Ward R. Edwards II, 49, of Columbus, in a meeting room at the Cummins Seymour Technical Center. Chen died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The department also was involved with the investigation of two students planning a shooting at Seymour High School in 2015.

“We know it’s a possibility here,” he said.

Officers also know what a situation like that calls for, Abbott said.

“Every officer here knows it’s all hands on deck,” he said. “If we hear shots, we’re going in.”

Walker said active shooter drills and training simply are a part of what students and faculty need to participate in nowadays.

“It’s something you hope doesn’t happen, but this is the reality today,” he said.

No posts to display