The Warrick County School Corporation hosted three nights of school safety presentations last week to help parents get a better understanding of the safety protocols at Warrick County schools.
Tad Powless, WCSC's director of human resources and safety officer, hosted the presentation and delivered the same information given to students and teachers about the safety protocol.
The presentations were held at Castle, Boonville and Tecumseh high schools, but were open to parents from all schools in the area.
While an action call earlier this year prompted a call for more communication and more information to be available to parents, the meeting attracted about 25 parents to Castle High School on Aug. 28. The turnout was similar the following night at Boonville High School.
Powless said no parents attended the event at Tecumseh High School on Thursday.
Powless said he wasn't surprised by the turnouts, but hopes more parents will seek out information on safety protocols to help ease tensions when an action in the safety protocol is called.
He said he would like to see more participation, but will continue to work to make sure all parents understand the corporation's safety protocol.
"The more we get the word out, the better prepared you're going to be and your kids are going to be," he said.
Some parents asked Powless about arming teachers or implementing the use of metal detectors at the schools.
Powless said those issues have been discussed by the corporation's safety commission, but the commission ultimately decided those wouldn't be feasible options.
Powless said it would be more effective to make sure there will be uniformed police officers in the buildings.
He said the corporation is working with county officials to secure funding to increase the number of school resource officers rather than arming individuals who haven't been trained to the same level as professional officers.
"We want uniformed police officers in the buildings if at all possible," he said. "I think there's a huge liability factor when you arm teachers."
Warrick County Sheriff's Office Lt. Paul Weinzapfel said there is no point to increasing the equipment at the school if there aren't officers on hand to operate that equipment. Plus, he said there is more to being an officer in a school than wielding a weapon.
"Law enforcement is not just punching holes in a paper target," he said. "We spend more time not shooting than we do shooting. There is so much more tactics in addition to what we learn on the road."
Weinzapfel says it takes a lot of dedication, thorough training and understanding when it comes to working with kids. He said that finesse is what separates the school resource officers from another security guard.
"It's got to be your full-time job," he said. "That's our true feeling on it."
In addition, Powless said the corporation is working to build stronger relationships within the schools by increasing the number of social workers at each school. He said it's important to build those relationships to make sure each student's safety and concerns are addressed and improve schools' ability to address issues before they become bigger situations.
"There are some preventative measures we've taken," he said noting the increased social workers. "That's valuable when you're talking about students with social and emotional issues. Having relationships with our kids...not only with kids that it's easy to have relationships with...it's those kids that are tough that need that relationship."
In the presentation, Powless spoke to the parents about Standard Response Protocol, the safety protocol used by Warrick County schools to categorize and deal with dangerous situations in or around schools. The protocol was established by the i love u guys foundation, which was born out of a school shooting in 2006.
The protocol includes four actions, each with guidelines depending on the type of hazard or threat. Powless said in the event that any of the actions are called into effect, the school will communicate through Blackboard Connect, the automated notification system used to inform parents and students about inclement weather closings and delays.
A "lockout" is typically called when a threat or hazard is outside of the building and generally allows teachers and students to conduct business as usual. However, no one will be allowed in or out of the school during a lockout.
A "lockdown" is called when there is a threat or hazard inside of the school. Students and teachers are instructed to stay in a classroom with doors locked and lights out while staying out of sight and remaining silent. Students and teachers are instructed to only leave when first responders open the door.
"Evacuate" is called in a situation when the school is no longer safe. Students are instructed to leave behind personal items, but keep their phones. In the event of an evacuation, a reunification point will be communicated through the corporation's notification system. Evacuate may also be called in conjunction with another action such as a lockdown.
"Shelter" is called when personal protection is necessary as in inclement weather situations or hazmat situations. Students will be directed to follow hazard and safety strategies appropriate for the situation.
Ultimately, Powless said the corporation is working to take all the steps deemed effective and financially feasible to increase safety at schools.
In addition to adding the number of school resource officers and social workers, Powless said the corporation will be installing video buzz-in systems in order to lock all doors to the buildings during school hours. Other security measures will be more video surveillance and auto-dialer silent alarms to contact law enforcement in the event of an emergency.
"I feel like I'm trying to be prepared as I can … and trying to prepare our administrators as much as I can, as well as the staff and students," he said.
Powless said the work won't be complete on safety in schools.
As trends change and more technology becomes financially available, he said the corporation will continue to implement new strategies to ensure the safety of students.
"As we look into the future, we will continue to add layers of safety for the students," he said.
For information on the safety procedures or to make comments on the safety issues at the schools, contact Powless in the Human Resources Office at 812-897-6588.