School safety measures under constant scrutiny

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By Jerianne Strange

 School safety has been a hot topic since the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre in Newtown, Conn., when a gunman opened fire at an elementary school, killing 20 children and six adults.

Mike Brown, who coordinates the SafeSchools program for LaRue County Schools, said in light of that tragedy, the district evaluated its safety measures. Overall, he said, schools in the district are secure.

“We are constantly looking for ways to improve,” he told members of the school board last week.

“At the forefront of everyone’s mind is what happened in Connecticut,” said board chairman Price Smith.

Brown noted that creating and maintaining safe school environments means considering a variety of scenarios ranging from snow and ice to school shootings to devastating tornadoes.

He said the district has had several safety audits since 2008 through the Kentucky Center for School Safety. He said a collaborative grant allowed for the review and some steps to improve security.

Each classroom in area schools has a flip chart outlining the appropriate response to a variety of situations, Brown said. Each building also has a detailed guide outlining the steps to take in response to a safety concern. In addition, a safety pamphlet was sent home with each student at the start of the school year.

The district is evaluating its plans for sheltering during a tornado. “Right now we’re putting (students) where we were told,” Brown said. “But we’re checking to be sure that’s the best place to be.”

A tornado destroyed the elementary and junior-senior high school in Henryville, Ind., in March 2012, ripping off roofs, tearing through halls and flattening walls within seconds. Brown said the district is working with Emergency Management Director Chris Jackson to determine where the safest places are in the schools. 

“The state has mandated that schools re-evaluate where they shelter (students) in the school during a tornado,” Jackson said. “We’re working with a structural engineer and the national Weather Service. They’re going to come and evaluate our schools and let us know the safest place to be.”

Jackson and the area’s first responders have worked to develop response plans at each school. Windows at schools are numbered on the outside as a measure to help guide responders to the right spot in an emergency.

Brown said the district is considering adding more security cameras at the middle and high schools. There are cameras in the parking lots, some hallways and at other points in both schools, he said. In addition, entry to both schools is limited, with visitors having to go through the main office. The elementary schools, which are newer buildings, had safety measures incorporated when the structures were built, he said.