Chesterton Tribune



School Board hears readiness plans for active shooter response

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If you were at Duneland School Board’s discussion meeting on Monday, you learned that keeping kids safe from attackers is a pretty big deal.

“We’re all in this together. Safety and security is everybody’s business and we all know that,” said Duneland Schools Superintendent David Pruis.

Safety was the topic in the second installment of the school board’s quarterly discussion meetings. More specifically though, the talk was about how to save lives should Duneland ever face an active shooter situation.

It’s a subject that has been a major focus for schools everywhere since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. and the one at Columbine High School before that in 1999.

The deadliest mass murder at a school actually happened in 1927 in Bath Township, Mich., where 38 children lost their lives in a bombing, said Duneland Schools Director of Safety and Security Steve Rohe.

Rohe said that before Columbine, the general rule should one find themselves in a school shooting was “surround, contain and sweep through.” But in light of the more recent tragedies, schools have adapted further and are training staff through drills and looking for warning signs.

Rohe said 81 percent of school shootings included someone knowing ahead of time of the perpetrator’s plans. Many times someone is too afraid that they will be thought of as “a snitch,” but Duneland does have an anonymous tip line on its website, he said. Every possible threat is looked at, he said.

Some people in the past have had an attitude of “It won’t happen here,” Rohe said. But in fact, there have been at least two occasions at Duneland where administrators have taken precautionary actions.

In 2012, shortly after the Sandy Hook incident, a rumor circulated of violence planned at a scheduled Chesterton High School pep rally and law enforcement was stepped up as a result. Then, in 2014, the police search of two fugitives from a hit-and-run crash on I-94 near the Burns Harbor/Porter exit led to a lockout at Yost Elementary.

Buildings were also on high alert late last year as an armed robber fled after a robbery at First State Bank of Porter in Chesterton.

School Board President Ralph Ayres emphasized what a high priority safety and security is for Duneland.

“We want a safe environment for our children. We expect that. The community expects that,” Ayres said.

Board Vice-President Kristin Kroeger said she’s noticed security has been increased in the three years she’s been on the board.

Measures have included installing buzz-in door locks at the entrances of every school except the high school, which will have one installed this year; implementing ID scanners; adding a second school resource officer, Sgt. Chris Swickard, and receiving regular visits from police to amp up safety.

“My hat is off to all of you,” Kroeger said.

Rohe said active shooter drills have gone well and teachers should “pretend that it’s real.” Even in times of extreme stress, people will know what to do if they have had the right preparation, he said.

An important thing to remember, Rohe said, is that shooters do not want resistance and are after the biggest body count in the shortest amount of time. Locking and barricading the doors are effective ways to stop a shooter. Some of the worst attacks in school shootings have been when a substitute teacher didn’t know how to lock the door, Rohe said.

Should a shooter get in, a teacher should be prepared to fight if they have to, he added.

Duneland recently has gotten on board with many other school corporations in Porter County with the SchoolGuard phone app that allows teachers to be the first response for defense. The app sends an alert to the Hero 911 app that is on the phones of law enforcers within the immediate area.

Rohe had some general tips for school staff. One would be to greet and challenge anyone in the building you don’t recognize. Another would be to take note of any unsecured doors or windows.

“Don’t ignore what you hear. Pay attention to what you see,” Rohe said.

For students and staff, don’t wait until after class or whenever it is most convenient to tell of something that could be a warning sign.

“If something doesn’t look right, it needs to be reported right away,” Rohe said.

Board member John Marshall said he is concerned that given the trustworthy nature of students at CHS, they could potentially open a door to a stranger into the school. He asked what could be done to change the “thought culture” of the school.

Rohe agreed that students should know not to let any outsider in no matter how benign their appearance.

CHS Principal Jeff Van Drie said the school is working on more open communication with teachers and the school resources officers. He added that the school has focused on getting all students involved in school programs which has alleviated some bullying problems.

The school has by benefited having positive relationships with local law enforcement, which is not so common at other schools, Van Drie said.

Board members also wanted to know what is being done at after school and sporting events which are attended by the general public.

Van Drie said there are school officials watching the crowds for any behavior that may seem unusual.

Board member Mike Trout said the public demands a degree of access given the fact these are public schools, but there should be a balance sought to accommodate the public’s wants with protecting students and teachers.

The board also took questions from the audience which included a few questions from Duneland teachers about recommended actions in a shooter scenario, which indicated to Kroeger that some more training will be beneficial.

Pruis commented that teachers and the public should learn the difference between a lockout and a lockdown. A lockout happens when there is a perceived danger outside of the school and the students are moved inside until the threat is removed. A lockdown happens when there is a danger inside the school and students and teachers will lock themselves inside of classrooms until law enforcement can remove the threat.

Ayres adjourned the meeting saying that anyone with questions and comments should address them to Rohe or anyone on the school board.



Posted 2/24/2016




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