Fort Wayne school districts say more school safety funding, not guns, will help keep children safe
People have been pitching many ideas this week on how to prevent school shootings, and some the ideas already are in use in Fort Wayne.
Both East Allen County Schools (EACS) and Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS), for example, have armed police officers working in their schools.
Information wasn’t available Friday from the Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools districts.
ARMED POLICE IN SCHOOLS
EACS has school resource officers working in each of the five attendance areas in its district, said Jeff Studebaker, the school district’s safety manager.
Four officers are uniformed Allen County Sheriff’s Department officers whose full-time job is working as an EACS school resource officer, Studebaker said. The fifth officer is an Allen County Sheriff’s Reserve officer who works full-time at his EACS job.
One of those officers helped school officials investigate a threat to “shoot up” Woodlan Jr.-Sr. High School, which a 14-year-old Woodlan student posted Thursday morning on his Snapchat social media account. The student, who said he did it as a joke, was arrested for intimidation.
FWCS has armed security officers or school resource officers stationed at most of its schools, said Krista Stockman, FWCS public information officer. School resource officers are full-time police employees working at a school, while security officers are off-duty law enforcement personnel.
All public school districts and private schools in Allen County also meet monthly with local law enforcement, fire, homeland security and health officials at Allen County School Safety Commission meetings to discuss school safety and ideas for improving it, Studebaker said.
NO SCHOOL STAFF CARRYING GUNS
Both EACS and FWCS don’t support asking teachers or school staff to carry guns in schools as a way to deter school shootings and protect students and staff if someone does attack.
Teachers and normal school staff aren’t law enforcement officers and haven’t gone through the training needed to become a police officer, Studebaker and Stockman said.
If a shooting incident does take place, it could cause more confusion for arriving police if they have to sort out who with guns are the good people and who is the suspect or suspects, they both said.
MORE FUNDING FOR SCHOOL SAFETY
Some school safety proposals have called for investing more money in school safety, and both EACS and FWCS support that approach.
Right now, it seems like funding for school safety increases after a school shooting incident and then gets cut back during periods without problems, Stockman said.
“A more-consistent level of funding would benefit most people,” she said.
If EACS had more funding, Studebaker said he would like to hire at least one more school resource officer to work in the New Haven attendance area because it includes more schools and education programs than other attendance areas.
He also would like to upgrade some of the security surveillance systems in use at EACS schools and install new safety classroom door locks at buildings that don’t have them.
DEALING WITH THREATS
EACS treats all threats of violence as real because it’s not always easy to tell what is a real threat and what is a hoax or joke, Studebaker said.
School resource officers for each of the five attendance areas in the district have training in threat assessment, as do the Indiana Department of Education required and trained school safety specialists at each school, he said.
FWCS security and school resource officers and school safety specialists have similar training.
Each school district has a Code of Conduct, and officials use that as a guide when determining punishment for making a threat or any other discipline problem, Studebaker and Stockman said.
Depending on the situation, such as the level of a threat, FWCS discipline consequences can range from a discussion about the behavior to suspension and, rarely, to expulsion, Stockman said.
EACS doesn’t allow much tolerance for incidents involving firearms, Studebaker said. In other discipline situations, EACS staff consider any extenuating circumstances.
If the situation warrants, the student also could face criminal charges, he added.
TRYING A NEW APPROACH
Fort Wayne Community Schools hopes a new text tip line will invite more school safety tips from students and the community.
One the line goes live in the next few days, people can use their cell phone to text school officials with tips, concerns or information about suspicious activity, said Krista Stockman, FWCS public information officer.
The school district has had a phone tip line, but students rarely called it to report anything, Stockman said. FWCS officials hope young people, who communicate frequently through texting, will be more inclined to send tips by text.
The text line also would eliminate confusion about who or where to call if something happens at night or on weekends, she said. In addition, text line tips will be received much more quickly than emails, which a school staff member may not see until the next morning.
“If this is an emergency, we still think it is better to call 911 and get police involved right away,” she added.