Safe schools?

Friday, October 6, 2006

Three school-related shootings in the span of one week caught the attention of the Putnam County Safe Schools Committee recently.

On Sept. 26, a man held six students hostage at a high school in Bailey, Col., before killing himself and a 16-year-old girl.

On Sept. 29, a 15-year-old student walked into his high school in Milwaukee with a gun. The principal of the school held the student at bay, but was shot in the process. He died later from his wounds.

And on Monday, a man walked into an Amish school in rural Pennsylvania, killing five students before killing himself.

Since 1996, there have been 43 documented school shootings worldwide, 33 of which took place in the United States, which is an average of 3.3 per year. Twenty-three of those national incidents involved fatalities.

On Thursday, 27 committee members met at the Miller Education Center, 522 Anderson St., Greencastle, to discuss those recent shootings.

PCSSC Commissioner and Greencastle Middle School Principal Shawn Gobert wanted to talk about the recent incidents, hoping to discuss the local impact of the shootings.

Specifically, Gobert wanted to know what precautions each school was taking in order to prevent such a incident from taking place in Putnam County.

Cloverdale High School Principal Sonny Stoltz told the committee members on Thursday that he intended to speak to the Cloverdale School Board at its Monday meeting about possibly purchasing electronic locks for the corporation. Both South Putnam and North Putnam schools use electronic locks, purchased through Sonitrol.

Stoltz said the recent incidents may make it easier for Cloverdale to purchase electronic locks. He said there was no security system on the front doors at the high school.

"There are people out there who are crazy," Stoltz said Thursday. "We're going to try to use this as a platform for ourselves."

Gobert said GCSC will also look into purchasing electronic locks for its buildings.

"Clearly, parents have a vested interest in this," he said.

North Putnam Community School Corp. Assistant Supt. Kevin Emsweller said NPCSC purchased its electonic locking system nearly three years ago. South Putnam purchased its system immediately following the Columbine shootings, where two students killed 14 others and one teacher before turning their guns on themselves.

On Thursday, Emsweller told the BannerGraphic the corporation still considers safety a top priority despite having the locks.

"Even though we have a secure building, we're constantly looking at things," Emsweller said.

South Putnam High School Assistant Principal Dan Bain said the system works well, but it can't prevent everything.

"It's a good system," Bain said. "But it's not a catch-all. But it's about the best thing going."

Bain said officials at South Putnam have recently started asking questions to those who wish to enter the high school prior to buzzing them in.

Stoltz added since he's been at Cloverdale, he could remember two incidents where students brought weapons to school. Both, he said, were mistakes.

"But I really believe this does raise our awareness," Stoltz said.

Since being implemented, the county safe school committee has attempted to construct uniformity among school policies at the four county corporations.

Gobert said all four corporations in Putnam County have policies set up, and while they are not all uniformed, there are similarities, which could help other agencies if such an incident does take place.

"This steps up our urgency," he said. "The nice thing is, we all have plans for it. We're consistent on the key points.

"There's nothing good that comes out of these situations, but it does heighten awareness."

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