By Dr. Daniel V. Kramer Assistant Superintendent Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation
A safe school environment is necessary and vital for any school to properly serve students and achieve its basic mission of education. Every student is entitled to attend a school where his/her safety and security are foremost. Staff members, parents, and communities have a right to expect their local schools are safe and protected.
Addressing continual concerns for student safety and facility security is a challenging matter for every school district.
Indiana school corporations are required by state law to have at least one official certified through the Indiana School Safety Specialist Academy. The academy, founded in 1999, has in its mission statement to “… provide ongoing, certified training and information on national and state best practices, as well as exemplary resources for school safety, security, intervention/prevention, and emergency preparedness planning.
School safety specialists will be trained to lead the development and implementation of school safety practices which will provide safe educational environments for all students in Indiana.” Once certified, every school safety specialist is expected to participate in annual training sessions.
Currently, Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation has two administrators certified as school safety specialists who lead the corporation’s safety initiatives.
In early 2013, a school corporation safety team conducted a facility audit at each of the five Tippecanoe Valley Schools. The team was composed of TVSC’s two certified school safety specialists, the school resource officer, the school corporation maintenance director, the Kosciusko County Emergency Management Director and Mentone and Akron Police Department personnel.
Audit findings were shared with each school principal, as well as presented to the school board. Principals then worked with their respective custodial/maintenance personnel to address minor, correctible facility issues.
In general, the safety team concluded that TVSC facilities, along with the policies in place, do provide secure school environments throughout the school district. However, it was emphasized that staff and students must be not become complacent and take for granted that current practices and conditions will automatically ensure safety. Rather, everyone needs to be vigilant and recognize the importance of continuous efforts to maintain and upgrade security measures.
One major recommendation from the safety audit was to re-examine the procedures and patterns for entry into each school facility during the student day. While every building has a secured main entrance, the differences in technology and physical facilities make for a different entry process from school to school.
It was recommended that all buildings be as nearly identical as possible with the procedures and conditions to permit entry. Identical methods will create a consistent procedure allowing students, parents, and patrons to more easily understand the entry process regardless which school they are visiting.
Early in the 2013-14 school year, TVSC applied for a matching grant through the Indiana Secured School Safety Grant Program. Funds were requested to improve and standardize security measures at the main entry area of each school.
In November 2013, a $50,000 matching grant, administered by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, was awarded to TVSC. With the support of the grant, overall security upgrades totaling more than $100,000 will be completed this summer. Visitor entries will become monitored utilizing updated video-intercom technology, new electronic locking systems will be employed to permit visitor access only after proper identification, and approved visitors will enter directly into the office area before being able to access any other part of the school.
While the changes will be more noticeable at some schools than others, the intent is to keep exterior entries locked during student hours, require everyone to be identified before entering the building, and restrict visitor entry to non-student areas. Implementing new procedures will undoubtedly cause adjustments for everyone – students, staff, parents, and patrons. However, the changes are part of TVSC’s ongoing efforts to provide secure learning facilities and to ensure the safety of all students and staff as fully as possible.