Central Indiana schools reviewing security in wake of Newtown tragedy

Most IPS schools use a "buzz-in" security system. Sandy Hook Elementary also had such a system, but the gunman shot his way in.
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Local schools are making major changes to increase school security.

Some of the safety measures at Hamilton Southeastern Schools include reminding students to never open the school doors for anyone, even if the student thinks they know the person on the other side.

"It was hard this morning, you know, letting him get out of my car," said mom Melissa Marer of her six-year-old son Hayden.

When Marer dropped off her son for first grade at Lantern Road Elementary School in Fishers, all she could think about was Friday's tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

"I didn't want to send him, but you have to," said Marer.

Marer and other parents took some comfort, though, after getting an email from Hamilton Southeastern School District, letting parents know there would be more Fishers police officers inside and around the district's 21 schools.

"We do not for see this to end at anytime soon. In fact, this will probably be our new normal," said Fishers Police Ofc. Tom Weger of the security measures.

Before Friday's deadly shooting, there were armed school resource officers at the district's three high schools and a fourth police officer who traveled between the other schools.

Those numbers could be increasing.

"Do you think we're at the point where, maybe we need police, an armed officer in every school?" asked Eyewitness News Reporter Emily Longnecker of parent Torri Farmer outside the elementary school on Monday.

"I hope not, but after what's happened, it is definitely questionable," said Farmer.

Across the district, schools already locked all outside doors and have cameras at the front doors. Now, classroom doors will be locked too.

To get into a school, visitors, even parents, need to use a buzzer so that they can get buzzed in through the locked front doors. Once they do, visitors better be ready to show a license or a picture ID.

"They have to have a background check before they can go past the office as well," explained principal Danielle Thompson.

Parents and school volunteers, anyone who visits the school for any reason, must have a background check on file with the school. Those background checks are good for three years.

Teachers are also going to carry walkie talkies to help alert them to any emergencies. It's the possible presence of a police officer at each school though, that makes Melissa Marer feel the safest.

"Not that I don't feel safe now, but I just think its an extra measure of precaution," she said.

No measure would be too much, Marer said, when it comes to protecting what she holds most dear, her child.

Earlier version

It was more challenging than usual Monday morning as Christina Langdon brought her nine-year-old daughter to school. Like many parents across the country, the Newtown school shooting has left her shaken and concerned.

It was the first day back at school for students the weekend after 27 were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children were gunned down in the attack.

The massacre at Newtown has parents wondering how safe their own child's school is. Eyewitness News spent the day checking in with school districts on their security plans and what's being done to keep your kids safe.

"She is my number one priority," said Langdon, talking about her daughter. After seeing what happened in Connecticut, this mom wants to know more about the school's safety plan.

"I just wonder if they are taking real good care of her like I would as if she was at home with me. I want them to treat her like she is their own," she said.

The Langdons had to push a buzzer just to get inside the school. It's one of the minimum security measures at all buildings in the Indianapolis Public School System.

But School Police Chief Steve Garner says being safe goes far beyond buzzers and locked doors.

"We have to be diligent about checking the appropriateness of visitors to our schools, that they should be there," said Garner.

Garner says after the deadly shooting in Connecticut, he got telephone calls from both principals and parents about security measures. All IPS High schools have campus officers on site.

Just the same, Garner is constantly working on what to do more at middle and elementary buildings. He showed us how even getting into school police headquarters for the school district requires someone seeing you first before buzzing you in.

"If somebody looks out of place, we don't buzz them in. We call the police," he said.

Garner says keeping all school doors locked at all times is extremely important, even with signs that say all visitors must report to the office.

"Parents have every right to have a comfort level that they understand the plan that exists and they can talk to their child about what to do," he said.

Christina has already had that talk with her third grade daughter.

"She calls me and if she can't get a hold of me she calls Aunt Misty and if that don't work, she calls the cops," said Langdon.

Like many school districts, IPS is looking at each school individually as far as security. They also urge parents to talk to their children about not only reporting strangers in the school building but also about never letting anyone inside - even people they think they know.

The Hamilton Southeastern school district says it's heightened security. In addition to outside doors being locked at all times once the school day starts, classroom doors are locked and additional officers will provide security during and after school. Visitors will be pre-registered and prescreened to ensure a background check is on file.

Hamilton Southeastern sent out a letter to parents outlining "supports we put in place today for students and staff." HSE has asked staff not to openly discuss the Newtown shootings, but to listen when students ask questions about it and "to acknowledge their feelings." The school district also says teachers will refer students who are having trouble to the guidance office.

Resources for parents

National PTA website

American School Counselor Association site

See more resources here.