With the latest school shooting of 2018 fresh in their minds, the Brown County Schools Board of Trustees took public comments on adding extra safety measures at all schools last week.

The plan to use $3 million in bond money, paid off over three years and eight months by property taxes, was announced last month. However, the school board’s public hearing came Feb. 15, one day after the death of 17 people at a Parkland, Florida high school on Valentine’s Day.

The school board voted unanimously to approve the project resolution, the preliminary bond and the reimbursement resolutions. The board will vote on the final bond resolution at their next board meeting March 1.

To keep the tax rate neutral, the board will add this new bond in place of a $6 million bond that will roll off the books this year. It was taken out more than six years ago from the state when Brown County was not receiving property taxes.

“I am excited that this bond issuance will be able to positively impact the safety and the security of our kids. That’s a gift we can give to the community,” Superintendent Laura Hammack said.

Changes coming

Hammack sent an email to parents the morning after the shooting. “I imagine every parent is thinking about sending their child off to school today with a changed perspective,” she wrote.

The school district has “comprehensive polices and procedures” in place that are intended to keep children safe at school, she said.

“We are intentional in practicing drills for emergency events like an active shooter and are working to empower our students and our staff to understand that some of the most important prevention efforts are awareness and reporting,” she said.

Plans for the bond money that involve safety include remodeling the entrances to the intermediate and junior high schools. In the last six to seven years, buzz-in systems were put at all other schools, Hammack said.

Sarah White has two daughters at the intermediate and junior high schools. Before picking up her children Feb. 15, she had watched footage from inside one of the classrooms at the Florida shooting.

“I thought about my kids, and what would they do? What would be their first thoughts if they heard gunshots in a classroom? I would hope that it wouldn’t happen in a small place like this, but it very well could,” she said.

Overall, White said she is pleased with the security in Brown County schools. The intermediate school entrance worries her, though. She is in favor of remodeling both entryways at the junior high and intermediate school, which the bond money will do.

She said the school district has done a good job when responding to reports of threats, like last September when the intermediate school was put on “secured facility” status because of a parent acting aggressively toward school and office staff.

Earlier that same month, building security was tightened at all three downtown Nashville schools after a parent made threats toward another student on social media because of bullying.

“Immediately I got an email from the superintendent saying they were on a security level and why and that they were taking it very seriously,” White said. “So far, I think they’ve done a pretty good job.”

The bond would also pay for protective sheeting for all school windows and sturdy metal posts to be placed in front of every building to prevent vehicles crashing into school buildings or people outside.

Part of the bond will go toward technology work as well, including updating wiring and switches in buildings and replacing the Chromebooks that junior high and high school students have in three or four years. Jane Herndon, with Ice Miller, the bond counsel, said that as the board awards contracts for construction, they will be able to determine which projects they will be able to fund from their priority list.

Already in place

School leaders are trained as school safety specialists, which means they receive training every year on best practices.

The district also has security teams at each school and a school safety commission that includes representatives from the schools, law enforcement and the juvenile justice system, she said.

“We are blessed in our small school district to know our students and each other; therefore, if someone looks like they don’t belong on our campus, we empower anyone to call a lockdown as a response to anyone or anything that looks suspicious,” Hammack told parents.

Sheriff Scott Southerland attends school safety commission meetings. He said training for responding to mass shootings is ongoing. “(But it’s) not as often as we need to. Less than, like, once a week is not enough as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Southerland called the increased safety measures the school board is planning “better than doing nothing.” But he isn’t sure that anything can stop an armed person intent on doing harm.

“Those barriers stop the person that is going to obey the rules, but if they’ve got a gun and they don’t care, they will just shoot the door one time, the glass falls down and they walk on through,” he said.

“It’s crazy. If somebody wants in, what they are doing is not hardly going to slow them down.”

Recently, the sheriff’s department received permission from the school district to walk the halls of schools at night, “just so they are familiar with the school and the layout, for one thing. The second thing is it gives them extra after-hours security,” he said.

Officers also have key cards that can be used on all of the electronic access doors in emergency situations.

Hammack’s letter said the district is applying for a $50,000 grant through the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to pay for a full-time school resource officer. The officer would assist with security and education of students and staff.

Southerland believes having a school resource officer in the district will help shorten response time. “I can get in my truck and drive (to the Nashville schools across the street from the law enforcement center), but it’s going to take a few minutes, and a lot can happen in a few minutes,” he said.

“If there is more police presence in the schools, even if it’s a school resource officer, then if somebody is going to do something bad, they don’t maybe know where he’s at or where he’s going to be,” he said. “It’s a good idea.”

Hammack told parents that another important element in preventing school shootings is counseling and mental health support.

The suspect in the Florida school shooting, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was described as a loner. He had been expelled from school for behavior problems. He had recently become orphaned due to the death of his mother and was living with a friend’s family, according to The Associated Press.

Brown County Schools was awarded a $192,800 comprehensive counseling initiative implementation grant in October from Lilly Endowment Inc., and another $47,906.34 in November. The point of it is to integrate lessons on empathy, emotion management and problem solving into the curriculum.

In addition, local mental health care provider Centerstone has been working in all buildings since last school year to help support students and families who are struggling in some way.

Hammack said Feb. 15 that school safety is the district’s “highest priority.”{div}“There is no greater responsibility that the school district holds than keeping the boys and girls who are entrusted to us safe on a daily basis,” she said.

“We are proud of the systems that we have in place to keep our school community safe; however, we are also confident that there is much more work for us to do. We are committed to making that happen.”{/div}Southerland has this advice for anyone who finds themselves in the path of a shooting: “Run if you can. If you can’t run, hide. If you can’t run and you can’t hide and you’re out of options, then fight back … whatever and however you can do it, throw chairs, whatever you can do to try to fight back,” he said.

“It’s scary to me. People probably think it won’t happen here, it can’t happen. But I imagine every one of the schools where there has been a shooting … have all felt the same way.”

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Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers business, cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.