It was May 24 when an armed gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and opened fire. Twenty-one people were killed, 19 of which were elementary students.
This wasn’t the first time a person entered a school with a gun– other school shootings have come before it, including shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
With August comes a new school year, and schools in Muncie are or will soon be filled with students of all ages, in cafeterias, at bus stops and in school hallways. Families may ask for bus drop-off and pick up times and how the cafeteria works, but they may also ask – ‘will my loved one be safe?’
“I am always concerned about safety,” Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, director of public education and CEO of Muncie Community Schools (MCS), said. “but in the last 10 years, we’ve seen shootings in schools and, before Columbine, that really wasn’t the case. So now that we’re seeing more of those, I would say safety and security is on my mind even more so.”
When it comes to security and safety at MCS, School Resource Officers (SROs) have more extensive school-related training than in the past, she said. In September, Ball State is set to host an active shooter drill at Northside Middle School and has invited MCS’s SROs to learn and participate.
School safety officers in the building have undergone training on different types of situations, including active shooter drills, how to build relationships in the community and cultural competence.
“Some of the best measures to have a secure school is building relationships so students can share tips or concerns that they may know about in order for MCS to be proactive …” Kwiatkowski said. “We believe our security team will fill that role for us.”
MCS has cameras that feed into the 911 system. If MCS is having an emergency, 911 can see hallways and large gathering places through the cameras. MCS was able to get this equipment from a $500,000 federal grant.
Kwiatkowski said MCS also reached out to the Indiana Department of Education security office and sent them MCS’ security plans for review and feedback.
Abigail Comber, principal of Burris Laboratory School and chairperson of the Teachers College at Ball State, said a single-point entry door was established in collaboration with Ball State a few years ago. The school has swipe access for people who come in the building and a monitor at the front desk.
Comber said Burris Laboratory school is “so fortunate to be on Ball State’s campus,” with the University Police Department is “not even a minute away.”
Like Kwiatkowski, Comber believes schools always have a responsibility to keep students safe, and the needs of society and students shift. For Burris Laboratory School, the word “safety” has meant security, staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic and currently means fighting student disengagement due to the pandemic.
The World Health Organization (WHO) named the outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States as a pandemic in 2020. States decided to shut down in order to maintain public health, and after that, some schools adopted mask and quarantine policies to prevent contamination.
As of August 19, there have been over 591 million cases and over 6 million deaths, reported to the WHO globally.
Faculty and staff at Burris Laboratory School shifted away from doing hands-on learning to be safe during the pandemic and now Comber said they are in the process of reacquainting students with a collaborative learning environment while transitioning back.
“The biggest difference we have seen is that now the ranges of students – their abilities, their needs … we just have a larger range now,” she said. “So it’s more just working to find the right ways to meet the student’s needs when now we have [a much] larger range than before.”
She said the school has created a new Student Engagement Specialist position to help students feel connected and safe in the building, since Burris Laboratory School struggled with attendance last year.
Michael McClure, fourth-grade teacher at Burris Laboratory School, said school safety is constantly being re-evaluated by schools and it is important, as a teacher, to be “genuine” with students about emergency safety. He also said making a safe environment in schools is about balancing physical, academic and emotional safety.
“Safety to me means students should be able to express themselves academically and emotionally without ridicule,” he said. “Safety also means that students can walk in my room and know that they will not be hurt physically by anyone in the classroom or an outside force. As a teacher, I will do anything in my power to achieve this goal.”
He said teachers “carry [their] students in [their] hearts forever,” and that teaching is personal, not a business to him. For McClure, he said teachers care about things outside of school as well, like nutrition, physical safety and mental health.
“People think of safety externally … “ Comber said. “And I think that’s a huge part of safety … but I just think that now schools are seeing more [of] what all of these external influences do to students internally.”