School shootings in small towns across the country have education officials everywhere reassessing security measures, and the Indian River School District is no exception.
Starting this year, each of the district’s seven elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools, as well as Southern Delaware School of the Arts and Howard T. Ennis School is staffed with an armed school safety monitor who is a retired law enforcement officer.
“The [Indian River Board of Education] wanted someone in each building who would be there throughout the school day,” said Preston Lewis, district administrator of student services. “If there was a serious threat to our students and staff, such as someone with a weapon who wants to do serious harm, we have someone there who can stop that immediately.”
Interviews for school safety monitors were conducted throughout the summer. Lewis said the district received 57 applicants, which were narrowed down to the 14 now employed by the district. According to Lewis, two of the school safety monitors are retired from the U.S. Secret Service, one from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, one from the Philadelphia Police Department, one from the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland, one from the New Jersey State Police and eight from the Delaware State Police.
Because the school safety monitors are retired law enforcement, they are legally able to carry firearms under the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, which was signed into law in July 2004 by then-President George W. Bush. The bill exempts qualified active and retired law enforcement officers from local and state prohibitions on the carrying of concealed firearms.
Lewis said the district’s attorney relayed a favorable opinion regarding the legality of placing armed guards in the schools. He added the district also reached out to the state Attorney General’s Office and received a reply offering no opinion on the matter.
The weapons are the personal property of the school safety monitors, Lewis said, and are carried in a secure holster. He said the district is making sure the weapons are handled as responsibly as possible, not only for the safety of the school safety monitors, but also for the students and staff.
“We don’t want students to be frightened that there is someone in the building with a gun,” he said. “These people are friendly and are there for the safety of the building. With school shootings across the country, we want the public to know that we have people in place to take care of a direct threat if it should occur within our buildings in the district.”
The duties of the school safety monitors, according to the district, include regular patrols of the school’s building and grounds, implementation of comprehensive school safety plans and frequent checks of locks on exterior doors.
Page 2 of 2 - Student Resource Officers
The school board also hired an additional student resource officer, a contracted police officer, to be stationed at the G.W. Carver Center, which is a special facility for students with disciplinary problems. The new hire is from the Delaware State Police.
There are three other resource officers, one from the Selbyville Police Department who monitors the three schools located in Selbyville, and two more State Police troopers, one each at Indian River and Sussex Central high schools.
Lewis said because the school safety monitors are no longer police officers, the student resource officers must make any necessary arrests.
Layoffs and increased cost
Dave Maull, district spokesman, said the new security outfit reflects a reallocation within the district’s budget. To pay for the new hires, the district did not renew 18 contracts within the climate control department – five intervention specialists and 13 campus monitors. The new department – consisting of five student advisors, 14 school safety monitors and four SROs – costs the district $958,950 annually, an increase of $160,950, according to Patrick Miller, district chief financial officer.
Electronic security measures
In addition to these new hires, the district is implementing various electronic security measures, according to John Eckrich, district supervisor of buildings, grounds and transportation.
Front door buzzers equipped with cameras are in the process of being installed at every district school, as are access swipe card systems.
“The new swipe card systems give teachers and staff access to the buildings when all the doors are locked,” Eckrich said. “A computer logs who accesses the doors and when they do it.”
Eckrich said the system allows the district to designate access, meaning a district employee’s position at the school would dictate when they can enter the building. For example, a teacher may only have access Monday through Friday during regular business hours, whereas a principal has access all the time.
Eckrich added the cards would have printed on them the employee’s name and photo, doubling as a mode of identification.
Additionally, Raptor Visitor Management Software is already in place at some of the district’s middle schools, Eckrich said. Raptor technology allows school staff to scan a visitor’s driver’s license to ensure that person is not a registered sex offender.
Eckrich said all of these measures will be implemented at all district schools within the coming months.