Mt. Vernon school district adding security to staff

FORTVILLE — Mt. Vernon is beefing up security on its main campus.

This week, the school board made an agreement with the Fortville Town Council to share the cost of hiring an additional school resource officer to patrol hallways at the high school and the other two schools on the main campus — Mt. Vernon Middle School and Fortville Elementary.

The decision comes a month after 17 people were killed in a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, though school leaders say plans were in the works before the incident.

Historically, the district has hired off-duty police officers to check in on the main campus, while employing a school resource officer who splits time between Mt. Comfort Elementary and McCordsville Elementary.

The change gives the district a chance to hire one officer to dedicate to the district’s most populated area, said Superintendent Shane Robbins. That officer will be a friendly face to students, a constant at the high school.

Robbins said the district began discussing hiring a school resource officer before the shooting in Florida, but he hopes the change makes parents and students feel more comfortable in light of the tragedy.

Derek Shelton, the district’s director of operations, said the corporation hopes to eventually hire a third school resource officer.

The corporation is growing — up to about 4,100 students this year from about 3,500 in 2014 — and hallways are becoming more crowded. Both the high school and middle school would benefit from having a full-time school resource officer, Shelton said.

Administrators said they think now is the right time to bring a permanent law enforcement fixture to the campus.

The officer, who will be employed by the town of Fortville, will be stationed at the campus any time school is in session. When school is out — during breaks and summer — the officer will patrol Fortville streets, said police chief Bill Knauer.

The SRO’s primary responsibility will be patrolling the schools. For example, if a bank robbery is reported in Fortville on a school day, the SRO will not be the officer asked to respond.

The department will hire the police officer and purchase a new patrol car as part of the agreement. Details about cost estimates were not provided.

Knauer said the department will need to act quickly if the district wants the officer to start working in time for the start of next school year.

The officer will attend the state’s 16-week law enforcement academy and will need to be trained to serve as school resource officer, he said.

Besides being present during the school day, the officer will also attend the district’s monthly board meetings and organize security for district activities, like basketball games.

The officer won’t be a disciplinarian, Knauer said.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.