JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. -- A new school year comes with new safety and security measures as Clark-Pleasant Community School students head back to class today.
Like school districts across the state, Clark-Pleasant officials have spent the last year working to increase security and mental health services in the wake of the Noblesville West Middle School shooting in May of 2018.
Safety enhancements across Indiana schools include technology, personnel and procedures.
“I would say we are stepping up our game with regards to how we are actively monitoring our campuses,” said Clark-Pleasant Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Spray. “How we are actively taking a look at the visitors and going background checks, etc.”
District officials are in the middle of installing more than 640 new security cameras to provide live monitoring throughout all their buildings.
“The exterior, all the hallways, the main gathering areas like the gymnasiums and the cafeteria,” said Clark-Pleasant Community Schools Police Chief, Tim O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan now heads the district’s new stand-alone police department, which was made possible by voters approving a $12 million dollar referendum for safety enhancements last year.
“It means this community cares about their kids, kids are the future,” O’Sullivan said. “And they want to make sure they’re safe and have a learning environment where they can worry about studying and not anything as far as violence.”
In addition to the new camera monitoring system, buildings across the district have new lock systems. Visitors to all school buildings must have their drivers license or government ID scanned and photo taken for a printed visitor badge.
The badge includes a “stop” sign sticker that turns from white to red after twelve hours. The changing color is designed to prevent someone from reusing a visitor badge at a later date. If the sticker is red, the office staff members know the badge was not issued that day.
“We are fortunate in that our community and our corporation are really proactive in making sure that the students and staff are safe,” O’Sullivan said. “And so that is first and foremost why we’re here.”
Dr. Spray said safety has always been a conversation, but it ramped up in earnest following the Noblesville shooting last year.
“It was kind of the final straw with regards to ‘okay we really need to step up and put some resources in,’” Spray said. “What we know is proactive, what is proven by research to be a deterrent and reduce response times.”
Since last year’s shooting, Noblesville Schools officials have made a number of changes and enhancements to increase safety. Many of the changes include technology upgrades, but others involve personnel, facilities and procedures.
District officials say they have tripled the number of School Resource Officers at their buildings, eliminated portable classrooms, hardened doors and windows, required backpacks to stay in lockers during the day, updated background checks requirements and other changes.
The district has also hired new counseling and mental health coordinators.
Dr. Spray says all school districts need to be focusing on students’ mental health as a means of preventing violence before it happens.
“We’ve got a new mental health coordinator,” Spray said. “We have mental health service people in each of our buildings as well that we’ve added.”
Indianapolis Public Schools officials say new safety enhancements include new interior locks on classroom doors, upgraded emergency communications, enhanced exterior lighting and hardened exterior bollards outside buildings.
Carmel Clay School officials say the new year includes Stop the Bleed kits in every school with staff trained to use them, safety specialists at every school, access control upgrades throughout the district, QPR suicide prevention training incorporated throughout the district and upgraded safety plans.
The district has also hired its first Mental Health Coordinator.
Spray said increased communication among school districts is proving to be extremely valuable in developing new safety strategies. He says sharing ideas with other corporations around the state, and sometimes traveling to other parts of the country, is the surest way to keep up with the new normal.
“To get a better understanding about how schools are reacting and what they’re doing to be as safe as possible,” Spray said.