Carmel Clay Schools’ Safe Schools Week started Oct. 18, but the fundamentals of school safety are always on David Woodward’s mind.
Woodward, the director of student services at CCS, said his mission is to continue to promote the positive culture and safety culture that exists in Carmel schools.
“In our presentations, we talk about the empowerment of staff, students and parents. Students are extremely important when we’re talking about safety because no one person can own safety,” he said. “Our schools are safe because our parents talk to our kids about the fundamentals, getting to school on time, looking both ways when they come (to school), watching their behavior online and reporting issues.”
Woodward said the schools are asked to reinforce something different every day during Safe Schools Week.
“They can talk about access control, not propping open doors, fire safety, anonymous reporting systems, our own drills as far as lockdowns and things like that,” Woodward said. “Our staff keeps our schools safe because of all the work they do every day.”
The school resource officers also work to create a safe environment.
“They are 100 percent thinking safety all day every day,” Woodward said.
Sgt. D.J. Schoeff, who supervises the SRO unit, said by the 2022-23 school year the plan is to have at least one SRO in every school.
Schoeff said the police officers must have the right personality and experience to be selected as a school resource officer.
Currently, there are four SROs at the high school, one at each of the three middle schools and six SROs for the 11 elementary schools.
“We have one supervisor now and we plan to add one more supervisor next summer,” Schoeff said. “Our goal is 11 elementary SROs, three middle school SROs, four high school SROs, two sergeants and one lieutenant by next school year.”
In addition, Woodward said there are social workers in every building.
“We’ve contracted with Ascension St. Vincent to eliminate obstacles to mental health services throughout the corporation,” he said.
CCS has a parent resource center, which includes information on vaping, severe weather, best practices and transportation safety.
Woodward said the students do an amazing job in keeping the schools safe.
“The key is and everyone says this, ’See something, say something.’ Then we do something,” Woodward said. “When we get those reports, we take them seriously and respond to them very quickly. The students have a huge role in keeping the schools safe.”
Woodward said human perception and eyes are better than any technology, such as metal detectors.
“When you think about our high school there are 6,000 kids and 12,000 eyes looking and reporting if there is an issue,” Woodward said. “We want to know about these things before it ever gets to our school. That’s what the anonymous reporting does.”
Woodward said CCS received a $100,000 grant from the Dept. of Homeland Security and have implemented camera improvements corporation-wide. Another addition to improve safety was the installation of secure vestibules at school entrances.
Schoeff said students, whose brains aren’t fully developed, often make decisions based on their feelings, which can sometimes lead to unintended consequences.
“The benefit of our role is we have the opportunity to dig into each individual, learn the why behind them and follow up with them, whether it be school-related consequence or last resort if we have to take any legal action,” he said. Our focus is to try to help our kids be successful. We don’t want to conduct law enforcement in a reactive manner. We want to build positive relationships with our kids. We want to give them a resource and an outside adult influence in their life that helps them toward their success.”
Schoeff said the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has put the students in challenging situations, often restricting their social interactions,
“This school year they are more around each other a little more frequently,” Schoeff said. “Sporting events are attended more. What you see is kids that missed out on a year’s worth of social action are spurred to do things as a result of that. This year we’ve seen too much of the social media trends that encourage behavior that ultimately is negative for our kids.”