Indiana schools prepare for emergencies
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org December 14, 2012 7:20PM
Victims family leave a firehouse staging area following a shooting at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn. where authorities say a gunman opened fire, leaving 27 people dead, including 20 children, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
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Updated: January 16, 2013 6:07AM
The tragedy at a Connecticut elementary school on Friday gave Northwest Indiana school districts pause to review their plans for responding to emergencies.
Public schools in Indiana are required to have a school safety specialist on staff, who receives certification through the School Safety Specialist Academy, a program offered through the Indiana Department of Education. The training is provided to schools at no cost, said IDOE press secretary Katie Stephens.
“Indiana is the only state in the nation that requires each school corporation to have a trained and certified school safety specialist,” Stephens said, “as well as the only state to have a School Safety Specialist Academy that provides the training and certification. They work with the school administrators and faculty on developing a school safety plan for the school districts.”
Many private and charter schools also participate, she said, but are not required to by state law.
The training program has been set since 1999, and continues to update policies. It offers different solutions for each school district and community, depending on their needs and the resources available. Stephens said other states send representatives to Indiana to train in best practices.
The state requires building lock-down drills each semester, to help familiarize students with what to do in case of a threat.
Gary Community School Corp. spokeswoman Charmella Greer said when danger is first sensed, the school begins its lockdown procedure and calls the Gary Police Department. Once the school is in lockdown, police officers would respond to the threat, and in the case of a shooter, the department’s SWAT commander would be contacted as well.
A telephone network called “All Call” would alert parents of any threats to the specific school building.
“We can program the system to send a voice message,” Greer said. “It would make a quick call to all the parents in that particular school.”
High schools in Gary already have police officers stationed. Elementary and middle schools would have officers on patrol respond to the scene.
“The majority of officers are trained to know how to deal with an active shooter in the building,” Greer said of the Gary Police Department. Police officers also stop by schools regularly.
“We have plans in place in case something of this magnitude would happen,” she said.
At Valparaiso Community Schools, the district provides flip charts for teachers and school officials in case of an emergency. Depending on the situation, students may move to a central location or stay within their classrooms.
Both Gary and Valparaiso require that people entering a school building are buzzed in.
Valparaiso schools also have an alert system that can contact parents either by phone, text or email.
“We don’t take the attitude that it won’t happen here,” said Jim Doane, the Valparaiso Community Schools assistant to the superintendent. “In the world we live in, we have to have plans to address those kinds if things. We hope it never occurs, but we have those plans to help us in case of danger.”
Since plans vary by school, the state says parents should be aware of the school’s approach to violence.
“We know this is a scary situations, especially for parents,” Stephens said, “but we encourage parents to contact their school to learn what to expect, and how to prepare their children in case something did happen. Obviously we hope it never occurs, but we cannot predict what will happen day to day, we can only prepare.”