‘People and processes’: BCSC officials consider school safety as classes begin

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. is continuing its efforts to emphasize school safety as the nation continues to react to recent school shooting incidents in Texas and elsewhere.

At a recent strategic planning session with school board and cabinet members, Superintendent Jim Roberts referenced the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. In the wake of that event, BCSC examined and updated its own safety protocols.

The focus was not just on tightening building security, but also on “people and processes,” something school officials continue to emphasize.

“We’ll continue to try to make sure that the building is not easily accessed, right?” said Roberts. “But we do rely on the people and the protocols and processes we put in place to be successful. And if they’re not, then that’s where the challenges occur. If you do all kinds of things to harden a building down, but you leave a back door open, that’s a human error. Then you have now a potential access point for somebody that you don’t want into your building.”

The school corporation will continue to “refine and improve” its processes and remind staff of them.

Roberts also noted that BCSC has the ability to lock all of its classroom doors. Teachers can easily check to see if their door is locked by looking at color-coded indicator, which would either be red or green. While teachers are not required to keep their doors shut at all times, they are required to keep doors locked at all times, open or not. This allows the door to be immediately shut and secure if need be.

Additionally, securing exterior entries has been an ongoing focus. Buildings have a single point of entry, and there is a vetting process once individuals enter. Staff have ID badges, and these are updated over time, with old badges losing their validity. Director of Operations Brett Boezeman added that while badges allow staff to access other entrances, “non-badged” employees and visitors have to use the main entrance.

Roberts’ presentation also mentioned “refinement of building guiding teams.”

“In each school building, we are continuing to address what that safe schools teams look like and what the responsibilities are and then increasing the number of school safety specialists we have in the corporation so that that larger number of people can lend their expertise to our continuing dialogue discussion about improvement,” he said.

The school corporation also conducts “run, hide, fight” training at least once a year.

In discussing safety, school board president Jill Shedd asked what the school corporation should “tell our learners” as the new school year starts.

“They know way more than we ever will, and they read social media way better than I do,” she said. “… What are we sharing on a both welcoming and a continuous basis to share information that they might know or concerns that they have about individuals or family members?”

In the past, BCSC’s students have alerted them to concerns, she said.

“Everything we have from a safety plan, security and so forth, our best strategy to address challenges is the ‘See something, say something,’ whether it’s our kids or for the adults,” said Roberts.

The Associated Press reported that Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old shooter who attacked Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, showed many warning signs and was actually called a “school shooter” by other teens prior to the attack.

The Texas House of Representatives’ investigative report on the shooting included details of red flag behaviors that were known only to “private individuals” and not reported to authorities. Findings were based on interviews with family members, testimony, and data from Ramos’ phone.

Some of the warning signs included an obsession with violence and “achieving notoriety.” Ramos also questioned his cousin’s son, a student at Robb Elementary, about the school’s schedule. Days before the attack, he posted social media about how he planned to do something that would “put him all over the news.”

“None of his online behavior was ever reported to law enforcement,” the report said, “and if it was reported by other users to any social media platform, it does not appear that actions were taken to restrict his access or to report him to authorities as a threat.”

The investigative report also highlighted school security issues and stated that Robb Elementary had an ongoing problem with maintaining locks and doors, as well as a “culture of noncompliance” regarding locked doors that turned out to be deadly.

The door the shooter used to enter the building wasn’t locked as it should have been, and the door to one of the classrooms he entered was probably not locked, the report said. The teacher, principal, another school employee and many fourth grade students knew that the classroom’s lock wasn’t working properly, but no work order was ever placed to fix it.

Mandy Gutierrez, the school’s principal, later wrote to the investigative committee members, disputing the finding that the school had a “culture of complacency” that allowed Ramos to enter the school. She also said that the lock on the door to the fourth-grade classroom where the shooting occurred had worked the night before when a custodian checked it.

In addition to considering safety in light of recent mass shootings, BCSC officials also discussed the need to plan for the effects of Indiana legislation.

A new law passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Eric Holcomb eliminates Indiana’s handgun permit requirement and allows anyone 18 years or older to carry a handgun in public. There are certain exceptions, such as individuals who have a felony conviction, are under a restraining order, or have a dangerous mental illness, according to The Associated Press. The law went into effect in July.

However, per Indiana code, it is still a Level 6 felony to “knowingly or intentionally” possess a firearm in or on school property or on a school bus, though there is a viable defense if the weapon is stored within a trunk or glove compartment — or is otherwise out of sight — within a locked car.

“A person who is permitted to legally possess a firearm and who knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly leaves the firearm in plain view in a motor vehicle that is parked in a school parking lot commits a Class A misdemeanor,” according to the law.

Roberts said BCSC is working on ways to remind people that, despite the new no-permit law, Indiana Code still bans guns from school campuses.

“We assume that there’s going to be an increase in number of people that are carrying a weapon in different places because you can without a permit,” he said. “… It seems like there would be an increased possibility of someone forgetting and bringing one onto our campus because they were just somewhere else and were able to have it legally.”

Therefore, the school corporation is creating signs to remind people of the law against carrying firearms on school campuses and prompt anyone who is in possession of a weapon to take it home or lock it up. The signs will be placed on sidewalks so they can be seen as people approach school buildings, said Boezeman.