Diane Raver and Debbie Blank
Shock was the initial reaction of Dr. Jim Roberts, Batesville Community School Corp. superintendent, when he learned of the massacre in Connecticut Dec. 14. He was “even more appalled” to discover it happened at Shady Hook Elementary School.
“There’s still no way to understand it,” but a link between the killer and the victims or crime scene can provide some twisted logic. Thinking about the Colorado movie theater, Oregon shopping mall and now Friday’s killings give Roberts pause. “The randomness of the attacks is just very, very scary for all of us.”
Educators there are working to keep as much routine as possible. “Schools are still a place where people go to feel secure” and the superintendent wants them to continue to feel that way. “We always do a Pledge of Allegiance and moment of silence” in each classroom. Before Monday’s moment, “we referenced the Newtown, Conn,, tragedy and made sure the people understood the moment of silence was in recognition of those who are suffering today” as a result of the shootings.
Roberts commended Thomas Barnett, the counselor at Batesville Primary School and Batesville Intermediate School, “for the work he put in this weekend.”
Barnett researched how to talk to children about tragedies and e-mailed that information to BPS and BIS faculty and staff and also parents.
“We have great counselors (also Sherry Heck Comparone at Batesville Middle School and Ron Thomson and Matt Maple at Batesville High School) and they are prepared to handle” problems students have. “Our counselors are on high alert” to watch students for signs of “angst or anxiety.”
Ed Krause, a former Indiana State Police officer, serves as the BCSC director of transportation and safety. “We put a lot of trust in his knowledge of these kinds of situations,” reported Roberts.
Krause meets regularly with safety teams at each school “to make sure we are being pro-active in being as safe and secure as possible.” The recent tragedy “makes us take an even harder look in the mirror .... What are some things we could be doing that we’re not?”
He noted, “We as a school corporation and the community of Batesville have invested in a school resource officer, an addition layer of security ... an invaluable resource for us.”
Batesville Police Department Officers Gandy Browning, Blake Roope and Jamie Straber, respectively, have served in that role.
Browning, now retired, other local officers and safety teams had input into a BCSC crisis flip chart developed a few years ago. According to Roberts, “It contains information about all the things that might create an emergency ... from lockdown to evacuations to unidentified person to weapons ... to an armed suspect.” A teacher would be able to quickly flip to a type of incident to get phone numbers, steps to take and precautions.
“There are always oppportunities to review and revise,” which Krause does at least annually.
Students and staff practice three specific drills on a routine basis: evacuation for fire; tornado; and lockdown, which means the building and classrooms are locked and kids are hidden and secure, “so if the situation is real, we’ve practiced and we can therefore perform.”
The BCSC leader emphasized, “All of our buildings are locked down.” Only the school’s front door is unlocked and outsiders must be viewed by an employee before an interior door is unlocked. “That’s a good system, but this situation Friday makes us think ... about extra precautions.”
“What roadblocks or obstacles can we put in ... (perpetrators’) paths to slow them down ... until we get assistance?”
Oldenburg Academy principal Bettina Rose was shocked when she heard the news. “As a principal, you worry about how to keep kids safe and do we need to amp anything up?
“I sent out an e-mail asking teachers to check their emergency bags and reminded them what they need to do in an emergency. They’ve been trained on that. We follow the same format as other schools in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis” and have practice drills on a regular basis.
“We’re in a really tough situation because we have a campus environment,” where students have classes in different buildings. At the beginning of the school year, “we talked about using the proceeds from the Reverse Raffle to purchase a key swipe system.”
The shooting victims were remembered with a moment of silence at OA’s basketball game last Friday.
“As a parent and educator, this really does hit home .... Our thoughts and prayers are going out to their entire community. I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
Dr. Jeff Hendrix, Sunman-Dearborn Community School Corp. superintendent, observed, “It was extremely tragic. When I heard the age of the kids, it really upset me .... It makes you want to hug your own kids.”
On Monday morning, the district leader sent an e-mail to the staff that said, “‘There will be many questions, concerns and conversations that will take place in your school and classrooms about last Friday’s tragedy. These will be difficult. Please be honest, but also reassure students that this was a random act of violence. Students and teachers are safe. We have precautions in place to protect everyone. As you talk about this tragedy, help students realize that the principal and staff did everything they could to protect the children from harm ....’”
He added, “We have been looking at security for quite some time, and a lot of drills are practiced monthly .... It’s more likely that bad weather will hit, but we still practice the intruder alert in all the schools.
“All of the principals have completed school safety specialist training,” and there is an emergency response guide in each building that outlines staff responsibilities. “We look at these every year because it’s important to stay on top of what’s the best way to do things .... We have radios that people can jump on and the administrators have cell phones if the radios don’t work.”
According to Hendrix, “We have precautions and are as prepared and safe as we can be without having a prison atmosphere, and if someone really wants to get in, we’ll try to slow the person down until our own resource officer or the local police can respond.”
Even though “our real role is to educate kids, I want to reassure parents and the community that we take the safety of our students and staff as a top priority.”