TERRE HAUTE —
As the school day ended Monday at Dixie Bee Elementary, Joe Kenworthy greeted teachers and exchanged “high-fives” with children.
“Look, it’s the sheriff,” he heard some of the students say. Some of the teachers thanked him for being there.
Kenworthy, a reserve deputy with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department for almost 20 years, was at Dixie Bee as part of a stepped-up effort by law enforcement to show a strong presence this week in Vigo County schools.
Stepped-up patrols by both the sheriff’s department and Terre Haute Police Department are in response to Friday’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.
“Schools are having increased involvement [by law enforcement] because of what took place Friday,” said Ray Azar, VCSC director of student services.
This week, Sheriff Greg Ewing has requested that reserve deputies be present at all county middle and elementary schools at the start and end of the school day. Whatever schools the reserves can’t cover, day shift and evening shift patrol units will be present on the parking lot at the start and end of the day, unless they are on a call.
That’s why Kenworthy was making the rounds at Dixie Bee, both outside and inside the school. The intent “is just to ease some of the parents’ minds, show a presence and answer any questions they might have,” he said in an interview after the school day had ended.
At the start of the day, another reserve deputy was at the school, and throughout the school day, dayshift sheriff’s deputies also stopped by.
Vigo County schools are in session through Wednesday this week, and then they are out for winter break until Jan. 2.
That is just part of the stepped-up effort by the sheriff’s department, which also announced Friday that “dayshift patrol deputies will immediately begin foot patrols” inside county middle and elementary schools.
Dayshift deputies will, on an irregular basis, stop in the schools in their district and make contact with the secretary or principal “to make sure everything is okay,” Ewing said. He described it as “community policing,” and it will continue through his tenure as Vigo County sheriff.
City police already do foot patrols at elementary and middle schools inside city limits, and that’s in addition to school liaison officers, said John Plasse, Terre Haute police chief. “We’ve done that for as long as I can remember,” he said.
Officers will stop at schools in their district, go inside and talk to students and teachers, he said. Liaison officers also visited schools “first thing” on Monday.
Those patrols have increased this week in response to last week’s fatal shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary. “We want to reassure parents and students that we are there,” Plasse said.
In addition, city police are expanding that effort to include private schools, Plasse said. They realize there may be some smaller private schools they are not even aware of. “We’re trying to reach out,” he said.
Police conducted an active shooter drill at Sarah Scott Middle School for school district administrators earlier this year, Plasse said, and they’re prepared to do more to help educate school staffs on how to respond.
Azar noted that central office administrators also will have an increased presence in schools. He went to one of the schools Monday and found that parents are appreciative of the extra security being provided.
There also have been a few situations where children in the schools met with counselors, Azar said.
Schools are taking extra safety precautions this week “and we’ll continue doing that as long as necessary,” he said. “We doing everything possible to make sure students are safe.”
Officials also are evaluating security measures in each school to see if any improvements are necessary, Azar said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.