CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Eastern Hancock students return to school after spring break March 30, they’ll be met with enhanced security features, including a school resource officer.
Eastern Hancock School Board on Monday approved hiring a police officer, making it the last school district in the county to take the step to increase security.
Superintendent Randy Harris said the board began discussing the issue last year while preparing to apply for the second round of the Secured School Safety grant program, an Indiana Department of Homeland Security effort that provides funding to help schools improve security.
Greenfield-Central, Southern Hancock and Mt. Vernon schools already have security officers employed.
Eastern used the first round of money it received to invest $74,000 in enhanced structural security features at its schools, which included giving office staff the ability to lock the schools down.
The school corporation learned earlier this school year it received almost $50,000 from the second round of grants, which it matched to improve security by implementing some other safety features and hiring a school resource officer.
Harris said he’s working with Hancock County Sheriff’s Department to find a resource officer, but it’s likely there will be several officers working at the school on a rotating basis.
The grant provides funds to pay for the officer for 180 days. After that, it would be up to the school to fund the position unless another grant provides additional funds.
“It would be hard to convince someone to give up a full-time job for one that might only last 180 days,” Harris said.
A school resource officer will be present most days, Harris said, for the remainder of this school year and will be present at the beginning of next school year.
“I think it’s going to add a little more comfort to have someone on site in case of an emergency,” Harris said. “It’s just another set of hands.”
The officer will be present in all three buildings, and once the 180 school days are up, the school board will evaluate and decide if it wants to continue the position.
School board president Scott Petry said using the funds to hire a school resource officer makes sense. The school corporation can test whether or not officials think an officer is needed all the time and re-evaluate after the 180 days are up.
“Whether or not it’s needed, I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll just try it and see how it works.”
Principal Dave Pfaff said he’s excited to watch students at the middle and high schools interact with officers, who are looked to as positive role models for youths. He said he thinks officers will be helpful in more ways than one.
In addition to providing a law enforcement presence at the schools, the officer also will be available to conduct various investigations, which could include car accidents in the parking lot or thefts.
“It will be good for students to see law enforcement as … friends … rather than the guy in the uniform that’s giving them a speeding ticket,” Pfaff said.
In addition to moving to hire an officer, the corporation has installed at each school a system called Lobby Guard, which requires visitors to use their driver’s licenses to gain a visitor’s pass.
“That’s really worked very well for us,” Harris said.
Doorbells with cameras have been installed at the main entry of each school and the entryway to the elementary school’s cafeteria.
To enter, a visitor must ring the bell, and the camera will allow office staff to see the person before allowing him or her to enter. That system goes into effect after spring break.
In addition to the enhanced security features, the corporation will install obstructions in front of the schools’ doorways. Those, Harris said, will protect entryways from being struck by vehicles.
Petry said these types of precautions need to happen, and he’s happy the grant is available to help the schools provide the precautions.
“I think it’s a sad world we live in. This is a conversation we shouldn’t have to have … I hope it never happens at Eastern, but it could,” Petry said. “It’s all good. It’s just sad we even have to do this.”
About the Secured School Safety Grant program:
The grant program was established in 2013 to make Hoosier schools safer. It provides matching grants to schools looking to employ a school resource officer, conduct a threat assessment or purchase equipment to secure schools more effectively.
School corporations with a daily membership of 1,000 students or fewer may apply for grants up to $35,000 per year. School corporations with 1,000 or more can apply for up to $50,000.