In 2018, the United States had 24 school shootings that resulted in injury or death, according to an Education Week study.
As technology advances and citizens have increased access to media coverage, students and parents alike have one glaring question: Is my school safe?
One Indianapolis school district has worked to ensure it provides a safe environment for students.
Dr. Nikki Woodson has been the superintendent of Washington Township for eight years. Throughout her nearly 25 years of school administration, Woodson has noticed a heightened increase in school safety measures.
“There has been a progression of increased assets of school safety that we didn’t have to worry about when I started in the field,” Woodson said.
She believes this is largely the result of a culmination of social media, an increase in technology and the access people have to news.
Metropolitan School District of Washington Township Chief of Police-Safety and Security Brian Clouse agrees. Clouse is a 26-year veteran of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and has been in Washington Township safety and security for nine years.
“Our world has changed, and that has changed the mindset of how we react,” Clouse said. “There are armed police officers in public schools and that used to be unheard of. It’s never static.”
Washington Township currently has an emergency plan with several response protocols in the event of an armed intruder. Clouse believes the selection and training of officers is absolutely critical in ensuring the safety of students.
This week, Washington Township school safety officers attended an Indiana State School Resource Officer Conference.
According to Assistant Superintendent Thomas Oestreich, Washington Township invites experts to train staff in Run, Hide and Fight, a procedure for handling an active shooter situation. Oestreich said the program is well received and makes staff aware on how to react in potentially dangerous situations.
While one of the first safety measures that comes to mind might be typical armed intruder drills, precautions are meticulous and implemented throughout daily operations.
According to Oestreich, placement of adults throughout schools in the morning is very proactive and deliberate. The bus drivers are also aware of safety measures and precautions. But he believes the number one safety resource is the students.
“They inform us of potential safety concerns and give us a heads up if something popped up on social media,” he said. “Students are our number one deterrent.”
Students are conscientious of safety and security, Clouse added. He believes the Washington Township resource officers share a positive relationship with students, which encourages them to speak up if an officer should be aware of a situation.
With over 11,000 students, the school district is like a small town, so everyone must work together to create a safe environment for everyone.
“Our students are committed to safety,” Clouse said.
Funding is crucial when it comes to increased safety measures. Woodson said the state does not give enough money for safety and security. As a result, administration consistently works on grants and reaches out to the community for support. This money can go to safety resources such as officers, technology and alarms.
“You have to be very creative,” Oestreich said.
The Indianapolis metropolitan area is the most populous in the state of Indiana. Consequently, there are school districts of all socioeconomic statuses.
Woodson said there is not a distinct difference between urban and suburban school safety measures.
She believes each district must implement measures that best ensure the safety of the area they serve. Some schools have more supporting agencies, some have more diversity, etc. so they may support their population of students differently than other districts.
“I don’t think anyone is exempt,” Woodson said. “It is the situation verses who you serve.” Indiana is one of two states that have a school safety academy, according to Oestreich.
In Washington Township, a number of administrators are certified school safety specialists. This includes the superintendent.
“The superintendent is doing it,” Clouse said. “So, it is something everyone needs to take seriously.”
Contact newsroom intern Jaclyn Ferguson at 317-924-5143.