By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer
MADISON COUNTY —
In the days that followed the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., cries for better gun control, speculations about inadequate mental health systems and ideas for tighter school safety measures became topics of conversation all across the country.
According to news reports, Adam Lanza — the gunman who shot and killed 20 children and six adults at the elementary school on Dec. 14 — blasted his way through the entrance with an assault rifle. Therefore, the new security system installed earlier in the year would not have prevented his entry.
“There is not a single safety measure that anyone could have put in place at that school that would have stopped what happened,” school safety specialist Bill Bond told CNN.
In 1997, Bond was the principal at Heath High School in West Paducah when Michael Carneal (age 14 at the time) shot and killed three classmates, wounded five more, then put the gun in Bond’s hand, all in a matter of 12 seconds.
Bond stayed on at Heath long enough to see survivors graduate, he said, but then started a career talking to high schoolers about security. He tells them to pay attention to what they hear and tell people who can help.
“In a school, your only real protection is kids trusting you with information,” Bond told CNN.
Although 20-year-old Lanza was no longer a student at Sandy Hook and apparently had no other connections to the elementary school, several of the copycat threats following the Connecticut shooting were made by school-aged teenagers, according to ABC News.
What our schools are doing
In light of tighter budgets and spending restraints, one key to making a school safer is to “change the safety mentality inside the school,” said Whitney Maupin, school resource officer (SRO) at Madison Central High School. “That doesn’t cost anything.”
Richmond’s two SROs — Maupin and Josh Hale — are sworn officers, said Richmond Police Chief Larry Brock. They are armed as any other patrol officer would be. Hale is the SRO for the three Richmond middle schools.
SROs teach classes, counsel students and are responsible for the safety of every student and staff in the school, said Maupin, who was an SRO at Berea Community School in 2001 before becoming SRO at Central in 2008.
Shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, Maupin asked a student what they would do if he was out of uniform and standing outside of one of the locked doors trying to gain entry. The student hesitated, but said they would probably let Maupin inside because they know him.
However, everyone should follow check-in procedures by entering through the front door, including himself, the officer said. This is one safety measure that should be routine, “no matter how inconvenient.”
Both Maupin and Hale also teach the GREAT program (gang resistance education and training) at the local middle schools. The program is designed to curb school violence by teaching students how to resolve conflicts.
The program allows officers to establish relationships with students early on so they feel comfortable coming to them with their problems, Hale said.
Parents also can reinforce school safety measures by talking to their children about check-in procedures, he said, as well as keeping track of what their children are doing.
It helps if parents understand that, during a lockdown at the school, nobody can enter and leave unless they have specific clearance, Hale said.
If a serious situation takes place at a school, “you should let the police handle it,” Hale said. Lots of parents rushing to a school to get their children after they hear of an incident will complicate a situation, he added.
Having a dress code also is a good safety measure for certain schools, Hale said. “If you keep shirts tucked in, it’s hard to hide a weapon.”
On top of education and counseling, SROs perform other duties such as patrolling the parking lots, reviewing camera surveillance, and handling traffic incidents and criminal activity on school property.
The Sunday after the Sandy Hook shooting, Berea Community School principals, administrative staff, guidance counselors and family resource staff met to discuss established safety procedures and to brainstorm about ways to make the school more safe.
A few new ideas came from that meeting, said Superintendent Mike Hogg, such as numbering the outside doors so that first responders are able to reach incidents more quickly.
The school also had maintenance personnel check every door to make sure they are locking from the outside when they are closed. The locking mechanism on two doors were repaired after the check.
To gain access to the school, BCS has a buzzer system that allows visitors to enter through a set of locked doors after being visually identified on a monitor in the front office, Hogg said.
Even then, visitors are only permitted into the atrium until they sign in at the front office and receive a pass. After passing the first checkpoint, visitors may enter through a second set of locked doors.
Once inside, the curricular areas for both the middle/high section and elementary section are locked. Those areas can only be accessed using a key or magnetic card, Hogg said. Elementary teachers do not have card access to the middle/high school side and vise versa.
Teachers and guidance counselors also train students to never open doors for anyone, and “kids know our routines pretty well,” he said. For example, in the case of an intruder, a coded message is announced over the loudspeaker that alerts students to follow lockdown procedures.
Around 2005, BCS gave up the longtime tradition of allowing high school students to eat lunch off campus following a safety audit by the Kentucky Center for School Safety.
A set of doors (located across the parking lot shared by the Berea city pool) also were sealed off to prevent easy access, Hogg said. The staff are asked to not prop doors open, even if it is not convenient.
“I wish it was more ‘Mayberry-esque,’” the superintendent said. “But if our safety procedures help prevent something like what happened in Newtown, it’s not really inconvenient at all.”
The price of safety
There are not enough Richmond police to have an SRO at every school in their jurisdiction, Chief Brock said. But, depending on the workload, the six to 10 patrolling officers on shift will randomly show up at a school and perform a walkthrough.
Officers have been performing walkthroughs for about four years, said Brock, who received four walkthrough reports from officers Thursday.
Although the RPD often operates on “the bare minimum,” he said, he will make sure officers maintain a “good presence in the schools.”
SROs are senior patrol officers who are salaried between $37,900 and $39,000, depending on years of service (not including fringe benefits), Brock said.
New patrol officers start at $34,815, he said. But with retirement contributions, social security, worker’s compensation, insurance, etc., the cost is at least $50,000 per officer.
The Madison County School Board reimburses the city for the hours that the officers perform duties as SROs, both at school and extracurricular events, the chief said.
Berea’s full-time SRO, former BPD chief Ray Brandenburg, also is compensated the same way, Hogg said.
Officers Maupin and Hale said having SROs at every school would deter would-be assailants. And if not, at least SROs would be there to respond in a dangerous situation, they said.
There has never been a school shooting where an SRO was present, Maupin said. But, there is some debate over the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
The Columbine SRO (who normally ate lunch with students in the cafeteria), left to get lunch and returned to eat in his patrol car on the opposite side of campus from where the shootings began.
After receiving a call from a custodian, the SRO moved to the south parking lot and exchanged gunfire with the two assailants, Columbine students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
In the end, 12 students and one teacher were killed, including Harris and Klebold, who turned their guns on themselves.
Where we go from here
“Those who know the world of school security are already predicting what comes next: A strong reaction — maybe an overreaction — by parents, schools and legislators who want to take action. Politicians will be elected on platforms of school safety. Vendors will turn up with technology and security plans to sell. Schools will rewrite their crisis plans and run extra drills,” said CNN reporter Jamie Gumbrecht in the Dec. 17 article “What really makes schools safer?”
“And within a few months or years, it'll be back to cutting security budgets and fighting for time to train staff and teachers on safety protocol,” she wrote.
Gumbrecht interviewed school security consultant Kenneth Trump who said the vast majority of schools have a crisis plan on paper, “but it’s much more common that we find those plans are collecting dust on the shelf, and they’re not a part of the culture or the practice.”
Trump said the best line of defense are school counselors, psychologists and officers building relationships with kids. Much like the practices that are currently in place at schools across Madison County.
During an interfaith vigil in Newtown on Dec. 16., President Barack Obama said what happened at Sandy Hook could have happened at any school in America.
“No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society,” the President said. “But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.”
Crystal Wylie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 623-1669, Ext. 6696.