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December 18, 2012

Wabash Valley schools step up security

Districts heighten alert levels

TERRE HAUTE — When Kim Tucker stopped to visit one of the Clay County elementary schools Monday morning, a staff member — relatively new at her job — asked for identification before letting Tucker visit.

Tucker, Clay Community schools superintendent, was not displeased. Instead, she was reassured to know that the employee took appropriate measures to ensure the safety of students and employees.

Clay Community Schools — similar to school districts across the country —  were on heightened alert Monday.

That heightened alert was in response to Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.

Law enforcement patrols made it a point to visit schools and do walk-throughs. “I appreciate the fact that law enforcement has been so responsive to our needs,” Tucker said.

Schools had extra personnel outside and on parking lots at the start and close of the day.

Tucker visited all elementary buildings to check on students and staff in the aftermath of the shootings. Assistant Superintendent Tim Rayle visited secondary schools.

“I think things proceeded calmly,” said Tucker, who wore a green ribbon to honor those who died at Sandy Hook Elementary. Green was the favorite color of Victoria Soto, one of the Sandy Hook teachers who was killed.

While making her rounds, Tucker observed classes doing testing, holiday activities and writing or math activities on laptops.

“If we can get through this day with calm and normalcy and have some of the spirit of the holidays infused in the classrooms, I think every day this week will be a little easier for staff and students,” she said.

Everyone is looking forward to a much-needed holiday break, which in Clay Community Schools begins Friday.

At most elementary schools, principals and staff met before the school day started to debrief about what happened Friday in Newtown, Tucker said.

In at least one instance, school staff gathered to pray.

Around noon, Tucker visited Staunton Elementary. The school, like other Clay schools, keeps doors locked during the school day and visitors must be “buzzed” in.

Principal Sheryl Jordan described Monday as a relatively quiet day. She told teachers that if students had any questions about the Sandy Hook shooting or safety issues, “try to answer as a positive so kids know they are safe here and that’s our No. 1 priority.”

Fifth-grade teacher Dustin Jorgensen said a few of his students talked about what happened Friday. He took the opportunity to talk about the school’s safety procedures and the drills they have on a regular basis. He reminded them that in an emergency, it’s important to stay calm and listen carefully.

Jordan described what happened Friday as “heartbreaking.”

For teachers, principals and parents, “Emotions run pretty close to the surface,” Tucker said. The mass fatal shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook “touches all teachers. It touches all parents,” Tucker said.

South Vermillion School Corp. observed a districtwide moment of silence Monday morning, said Superintendent Dave Chapman. The Vermillion County Sheriff’s Department made it a point to visit schools.

Chapman’s administrative team will meet today, and the focus will be on school safety, what works and what more can be done. “We feel pretty good about where our security systems are, but again, no system is foolproof,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, he met with the North Vermillion School Corp. superintendent and Sheriff Bob Spence, and they talked about how to improve school safety and communication.

Leonard Orr, superintendent at Southwest Parke, said schools there reviewed their school safety plans “and made sure everything was in place the way it should be.”

Montezuma Elementary did a lockdown drill.

A second-grader at Rosedale Elementary wants to raise money “to build a new school” for students in Newtown. The school will conduct a fundraiser next month to send to the Newtown school district, with funds to be used however that district sees appropriate, Orr said.

More important that the money raised, he said, is that people in Newtown “will know that someone from Indiana wanted to raise money to help them,” he said

Southwest Parke schools has refinanced one of its bonds, and part of the proceeds will be used to upgrade security at the schools, something that had already been planned, Orr said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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