CONSTANT REVIEW: BCSC outlines response to active shooter, door policies following Texas school massacre

BARTHOLOMEW Consolidated School Corp. officials say they are monitoring the investigation into the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and plan to compare the response there to the school corporation’s “constant review” of its crisis planning and safety policies.

School safety and the types of measures schools can take to prepare for potential mass shootings have once again been thrust into the national spotlight after a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Uvalde on May 24, killing two teachers and 19 grade school students — including a 10-year-old boy who had relatives in Columbus.

Earlier this week, BCSC officials — including Superintendent Jim Roberts — met with Columbus Police Sgt. Julie Quesenbery, who oversees all five of BCSC’s school resource officers, as part of a routine internal review of the school corporation’s safety policies. The mass shooting in Texas was a topic of discussion at the meeting.

“Unfortunately, (a school shooting) is something we have to think about all the time,” said BCSC Superintendent Jim Roberts.

BCSC does periodic drills and training with students, teachers and other staff on how to respond to a mass shooting, including the “run, hide, fight” strategy, Roberts said. The school corporation also has evacuation plans and reunification sites and plans in place as part of its crisis planning.

“We review those plans every year and as frequently as possible,” Roberts said. “…We take our crisis plan and make sure that it’s been updated with things that we’ve encountered, experienced, seen, discussed and challenged in the course of the year to make sure the crisis plan next year is back up to speed. But I think like any other business, organization or whatever, when something occurs, you pay close attention to something of that magnitude and you try to learn from it. An interesting thing with the Uvalde tragedy is that the news continues to evolve. What came out the very first day or two is different than maybe what we think we know now in terms of how all of that happened, the person entering the building and then what happened inside and then response and all those kinds of things. So we’ll continue to review that and compare it to what could or might happen in Bartholomew Consolidated schools.”

Door policies

Much of the investigation into the Uvalde mass shooting has involved doors — both the one the gunman entered and the one police did not open for over an hour — as well as the police response to the massacre.

State police initially said the gunman entered through an exterior door that had been propped open by a teacher. But a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety later said that the teacher closed the door after realizing a shooter was on campus, but it did not lock as it should have.

Inside the school, officers waited for more than an hour to breach the classroom. Officials said a U.S. Border Patrol tactical team used a janitor’s key to unlock the classroom door and kill the gunman.

State and federal panels charged with reviewing individual mass shootings have repeatedly advised limiting access to school buildings by locking exterior doors, forcing visitors to enter through a secure door and requiring teachers to lock classrooms while classes are in session.

Roberts said BCSC operates under a “single point of entry” policy at each of the school corporation’s buildings.

“As somebody comes to our building, they should not be able to get in another door except the one that we’ve designated for them to enter, and that’s every building,” Roberts said. “And we have a process to then vet that individual who comes to the building with some exchange of information to get them in and then to even screen them once they are in and badge them.”

Additionally, BCSC officials monitor all external doors and perform “random checks” to verify that they are locked from the outside, Roberts said.

“Every building has a lot of doors,” Roberts said. “…We request that those doors be monitored on a consistent basis and then we will do random checks of doors and just show up at a building and go around to all the doors on the outside, pull on them and see if they’re locked. Because if you pull on one of our doors and it’s not the designated door for somebody to enter, it should be locked. If it’s not, that’s an issue and we address it with the proper people.”

Over the past couple years, BCSC has upgraded all of the internal lock systems for classroom doors, which can be locked from the inside or outside, said BCSC Director of Operations Brett Boezeman.

“(The doors) have visual indicators from the inside,” Boezeman said. “…The adult in the room can quickly look at the lock and visually identify if it’s locked or not based on the indicator without having to fumble for keys and go over and see if it’s locked from the outside.”

Boezeman said “the best practice” is for teachers to keep the classroom door locked from the hallway “at all times.”

However, locked doors aren’t always insurmountable. The gunman who killed 20 children and six adults in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, shot out a window next to the school’s locked entrance doors and opened fire again once he entered, according to wire reports.

Comprehensive approach

Most research backs a more comprehensive approach focused on training educators to spot warning signs in at-risk kids paired with a rigorous safety plan, training for all staff and partnership with law enforcement and other community groups. The policies that BCSC officials outlined this week mirrored such an approach, with officials also highlighting the importance of building relationships of trust with students and offering mental health services.

In 2018, BCSC officials said they hired a consultant to perform outside audit of the school corporation’s safety procedures and buildings following the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 14 students and three staff members dead and injured many others.

The school corporation hired Paul Timm of Facility Engineering Associates to perform the audit, which included examining if buildings were “as secure as it is appropriate for a school facility,” school grounds, school buses, how children are dropped off at schools, among other things, Roberts said.

“We spent a lot of time just reviewing everything and we feel like what we put in place then is what have been the appropriate things to put in place,” Roberts said. “…Uvalde probably could have said a lot of things about their plan before that situation happened, and they’re saying other things today. So the best thing that we can do is be as prepared as possible.”