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EH urged to reconsider adding school safety officer

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — With less than four weeks to apply for another possible $50,000 state matching grant, Eastern Hancock school officials will try to settle on additional school safety options, including adding a school resource officer, prior to a special March 3 board meeting.  

A small but steadfast group of EH parents spoke at Monday’s school board meeting urging board members to consider hiring a security officer for the schools.

Officers already are on duty or are planned in the county’s other three school districts, where proponents say they can provide additional school security as well as address and deter daily discipline issues and build relationships in the community.

EH recently was approved by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to receive $37,000 of its $50,000 request in the first round of the Secured School Safety program, a two-year, $20 million effort to help the state’s schools improve security and safety.

When funded, EH will use the money to install $74,000 worth of new door locks in campus classrooms, install extra security cameras and allow office staff the ability to lock down access to the building.

However, school officials have been cautious about adding a school resource officer to its security roster, citing concerns over how much benefit the added personnel would achieve in light of the cost.

“There is not an unlimited pot of money,” said board President Scott Petry. “And we’re trying to get the most bang for our buck.”

Among the additional measures being considered by the corporation are school bus GPS devices to allow officials to track all buses in real time; blackout curtains in all three schools; a threat assessment of the entire campus; and radios that operate on the same frequency as emergency agencies.

The parents in attendance, however, urged the board not to make a decision until the prospect of adding a resource officer was fully considered.

“I think it would be very prudent on everybody’s part not to make a decision tonight,” said parent Traci Johnson.

“We’re naive to think that something couldn’t happen here,” said elementary parent Susan Collins. “I can’t help but think about it …”

“I agree that EH may not be any different than Sandy Hook or Columbine,” said Superintendent Randy Harris. “What happened there was absolutely tragic.”

However, adding a full-time resource officer might preclude the corporation from being able to add a needed teaching position next year, and, additionally, should the stategrant program end after two years, the local districts would have to find ways to continue funding the position on their own, officials said.

Board member Scott Johnson said employing a resource officer could be an option, if only on a part-time basis.

“We need to look at it as if it was a one-year deal,” Johnson said. “If we have the money, I say give it a try. There’s an opportunity here.”

Given the various potential risks and threats schools now face, the issue is deciding how best to spend the limited funds available.

Given the shortened deadline to apply for grant funds, board members decided to have threat assessments performed with recommended actions prior to its March meeting.

Harris said some of the evaluations could be performed by local law enforcement agencies, and others would have to be done by outside experts.

Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd said his department could audit the campus and provide some insight.

“Some of the older schools were not built with the threats that we now face in mind,” Shepherd said. “Unfortunately that’s the world we live in now. We could offer some tactical opinions and thoughts as police officers.”

Harris said the some of the assessments could be obtained without cost from the county, but others will be a corporation expense. 

Though he acknowledged coming to a concensus on what measures will be sufficient to improve school security might be difficult, “one thing we can agree on is that we all want the absolute best for our kids,” Harris said.

“I know you can’t please everyone,” Collins said. “But if you can, just give us a voice.”

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