- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 12, 2015

MUNSTER, Ind. (AP) - A few months ago, Highland school administrators went on full alert when they received a message from the Highland Police Department that someone called in with a threat to students at Highland High School.

The caller reportedly told police someone would shoot people in the Highland High School cafeteria unless $2,000 was placed in an unspecified garbage can. The number was eventually tracked to Dallas, but no one connected with that address had anything to do with the threat, authorities said at the time.

Highland Superintendent Brian Smith said the district used its Alert Now system to contact parents, and the school went on lockdown.

“Our system allows us to alert people immediately and protect our students and staff,” Smith said. “Parents were at ease knowing that no one was inside the building and their children were safe. It’s part of our safety plan and we’ve practiced it many times. The high school was locked down within a minute or two. It worked the way it was supposed to work.”

Smith said afterward, they met with police, fire and town officials to debrief. He said the policy is regularly updated.

There’s not a day that school leaders don’t think about safety and security following the tragedies at Columbine High School, where 12 students and one teacher were murdered and 24 were injured in 1999, and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adult staff members were fatally shot in 2012.

Hebron Superintendent Nathan Kleefisch, in his second year at the helm, said administrators have revamped the crisis plan to update it with new laws and requirements, including enhancing the reunification plan. Kleefisch said it’s a thorough crisis plan and includes input from the staff and local community.

“In the event of a catastrophic event where students have to be dismissed early and parents are not aware, a plan where parents will come and provide identification and pick up their children has been updated,” he said.

“We’ve covered a variety of scenarios in our plan including if the two buildings were destroyed, an active shooter in the building, trespassers, student fights, even situations where a student or faculty member has passed away and how to deal with the trauma and distress.”

On June 12, School Town of Munster collaborated with Munster police, fire and EMS, Community Hospital, Franciscan hospitals and Homeland Security to implement a full-scale active shooter exercise at Munster High.

Munster Superintendent Jeff Hendrix said the exercise included student and staff volunteers and allowed all the participating agencies to test their response to an active shooter incident. The exercise also included other hazards such as explosives and chemicals, he said.

“After receiving new information on the organization and implementation of a reunification site, we will be updating our current reunification plans with the new information provided through the Indiana School Safety Specialist Academy,” Hendrix said.

“All of our building administrators have been trained as school safety specialists and receive up-to-date training each year by the State of Indiana through the school safety specialist academy.”

In May, the Indiana Department of Education conducted its School Safety Academy Basic Training and Advanced Academy. As a result of this training, Indiana now has 500 newly certified School Safety Specialists and more than 700 new graduates of the Advanced Academy, bringing the state’s total number of School Safety Specialists to more than 2,000.

Indiana education leader Glenda Ritz said, “As a life-long educator, nothing is more important than the safety of our students. This year’s graduating class shows that educators throughout Indiana are committed to ensuring that our children learn in a safe environment.”

The Basic Training consists of five days undertaken throughout the year and includes school safety laws, bullying prevention, storm preparedness and emergency response and messaging, among other topics.

East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker said they are planning to work with School City of East Chicago soon to test the response plan. “We like using the high school. The schools are always very cooperative,” he said.

Becker and East Chicago school Superintendent Youssef Yomtoob have been working together to establish a school resource officer program in the district.

“We’ve had some recent discussions, and all sides agree it’s important to have that in a school to help guide youth. We’re still working out some of the details,” he said.


Source: The (Munster) Times, https://bit.ly/1MmAb7s


Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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