In Close Quarters: CHS students, administration reflect on recent events, future safety regulations
March 23, 2018
A knife. Multiple fights. Threats. Rumors. These are words that could be used to describe the month of February, which was plagued with an unfortunate series of events, leading to two arrests and two public video announcements, and several press releases to the community. These events, along with the terror created from the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14, led to Feb. 16, a day where almost a quarter of the students at this school reported in as absent.
Assistant Principal Amy Skeens-Benton, who works closely with school safety issues, said administrator plan to evaluate their response to those events.
“We’re going to sit down with the (administration) team and once again, go over how we can use this as a springboard off of our social media education curriculum in trying to teach, but you know we had adults that misused it as well,” she said. “So it’s not just kids, but (social media education curriculum) may be for the whole community to learn how to use social media appropriately.”
Skeens-Benton said while these recent events were horrible, they brought to light many key aspects of this school’s safety system.
“The only thing I can say that was good about (the events of February are) that it brought out and let everyone know how much we work with the Carmel Police Department,” Skeens-Benton said. “(The events let) everyone know how awesome our cooperation and collaboration is with them. I think that it’s important that everybody knows this and knows that’s how it’s always been. Something happens and they’re here for us.”
Despite the concerns, senior Alexis O’Brien said she believes the series of events (in February were) unusual for CHS.
“I typically feel safe here. The resource officers are a nice feature and I know there are administrators all over the place so if something were to happen it wouldn’t last very long,” O’Brien said.
Sergeant Phil Hobson, a school resource officer (SRO) at CHS, said the police department and SROs, specifically, are looking at improvements they can make for the next school year due to these events.
“On Friday, (Feb. 16) we worked with our police department to have an increased police department (presence at this school). The sole purpose of that was to make people (to) feel more comfortable,” Hobson said. “The environment we feel here on a daily basis is very safe, but we wanted people feel safer. Now we always, every year, evaluate our safety plans. We look at current events, things that are happening, and try to predict the climate in society to adjust accordingly. We try and adjust our training every year to mitigate the concerns. One thing that I feel is that when you are talking about violence, in general and in school, there is no one cause and there’s no single solution. That’s why it’s so difficult. Every year, we have to make sure our doors are locked in the right way and that our sign-in protocols are good. We also have to look at how are we taking care of each other and how well are we making students feel comfortable.”
Despite all the events that have happened, Skeens-Benton said people should stay calm and understand the school is not in danger before, during or after school.
“Not only do we do things during the school the school day but we have been recognized for all (the safety protocols) that we do beforehand. There are a lot of things that people don’t know we do,” Skeens-Benton said.
“One thing is that before a (convocation) we do a full security sweep on the venue wherever the (convocation) is going to be. We go down for Homecoming, (and) we have the police department do a full sweep of the entire ground before (students) even come down and (we) station officers. Because we pay attention and, sometimes, we take our safety for granted, but know that we’re prepared and we do things in preparation for all kinds of event and all kinds of things for you guys.”
While administrations are the ones who are in charge of everyone’s safety at CHS. Skeens-Benton said the best defense against threats in the school are the students.
“I would say that if (students) see something like that, that they saw on social media instead of sending it out to all of their friends, (these students) need to tell one of us. ‘Here look what I found.’ Then we can go in because they created actually more of the hysteria by sending it all out when it should be sent to the police or should we sent to us immediately and not send to everybody else.”
Skeens-Benton said the school’s plans for safety are (available to the) public.
“Our safety plans aren’t secret because we want people to know [about them] and we want people to know the consequences,” Skeens-Benton said. “So when there’s a threat we actually use something that was developed by the Secret Service and it’s the P.E.N.T. threat assessment. Depending on the threat, if it’s a threat against another individual and it’s reported to us, then we do a series of interviews and go through a threat assessment guide. If it is a threat against the school, we actually call in outside resources. We’re extremely fortunate that Carmel High School is a nationally recognized school for all of its programming. So because of that, we are very fortunate that we have parents that work for various organizations like the FBI, the Secret Service, the DEA, the ATF, and although our local department is awesome and really are the ones who did everything this time, we know that we can always pull in those resources as well.”
Hobson added students can also help keep the school safe by using the anonymous alert system.
“Everyone has access to the anonymous alert program through their myCCS account, (but) we always have asked that if the concern is an immediate emergency that the student or parent contact 911,” Hobson said. “When someone types in an anonymous alert and they hit send, it sends an immediate email at the district and the building level to the building that is affected. It also sends a text to specific administrators and law enforcement officer assigned to the list. We then review the alert, and if it is an immediate concern like self-harm, we pull the student’s information up and we send a dispatch officer to their house. If it is not a non life threatening concern, we follow up with the student the next school day. The system is 24 hours, 7 days a week. We respond to every alert so the person knows it has been received.”
Even if the alert is reported many times, Hobson said he still recommends students use the alert because it doesn’t cause harm.
“For that week in February, we were well into the 100s for anonymous alerts,” Hobson said. “Now many of those were reporting the rumors that people had heard. So what we do when it is repeated information that we already have and we already working on, we just indicate what is happening in the response.”
Hobson and Skeens-Benton said while the school may seem vulnerable, it is one of the most proactive and safe school’s in the nation.
Skeens-Benton said, “I would say that Carmel Clay Schools was the first to adopt the ALICE training and that was our active-shooter training. And we were the first in the state to adopt that and train our students and staff on appropriate response to active violence… We also give training all the time and we do drills. We’re the first high school in the nation to be SESA (Sporting Event Security Awareness) certified, which is a safety awareness award. There are universities that are awarded this and there are professional arenas that are awarded this, but Carmel High School is one of the (first high schools) in the nation to be certified.”
TRANSPARENCY AND RUMORS
O’Brien said there’s still room for improvement.
“Well I know there’s not a lot more they could’ve done because of legality issues, but I think where it all started, at least for me being nervous here, was when the knife situation happened. I think because (administrators) didn’t give us a lot information, initially, it let our minds kind of wander, and I know my teacher thought there was a shooter in the building,” O’Brien said. “I think the fact that we didn’t have a lot of information at first made it so that a lot of us thought of the worst and (it) made us nervous for the rest of the week…I think it’s better if we know all the details because, like I said, we didn’t know that much and it let our minds wander and it started putting bad ideas in kid’s heads.”
Hobson said he agreed with O’Brien in that the lack of information was annoying.
“On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of that week we did not receive any threat. So the frustrating part of that was that the threats were inaccurate, and we didn’t really have any investigative information to follow up on. So trying to mitigate people’s concerns and fears when there was no actual threat was very frustrating,” Hobson said. “We did our best to stay open and up front. I know that (Principal Tom) Harmas felt it was important to talk to the kids and give all of the information that we had to try and alleviate some of those concerns. Friday morning, we actually did receive a threat, and Friday afternoon we received another one. On Monday, we made the last arrest. In the long term, we need better social media awareness. I think that much of the information that students were relaying were rumors, but some of it was true and we were able to follow up on (it). Once we had an actual threat, the investigation went very smoothly.”
HEALTH AND PARANOIA
Hobson said he believes student’s health should be a priority for the school, and being proactive about those issues can solve many problems on the road.
“We work very closely with our staff to identify kids that are in crisis,” he said. “One of my favorite quotes is ‘Hurt people hurt people.’ So a big focus of ours needs to be how do we identify the people in our society and our community that are hurting so that we can get service them? As technology improves, we have to look at if our technology is the most efficient and how we can improve our technology use. We just have to continue to work hard to address all of the components of this violence issue and try to do the best we can to prevent it. It’s a multi-faceted issue. We are always looking on ways we can improve and are open to any kinds of suggestions from parents and students.”
O’Brien said he agreed with Hobson that student health is paramount for a safe school.
“I feel like a lot of students that would (make these threats) would be troubled,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know if this is something a school could effectively do, but I think as a student body if we see somebody whose troubled we should probably come to a teacher or counselor because if it escalates to the point where they become violent to these school students.”
According to Hobson, student anxiety as a whole was on the rise due to the unfortunate events in Florida.
“They were a number of things that occured that created an atmosphere for fear or worry,” Hobson said. “I think that anytime there’s rumors, sometimes people are concerned with that. When those rumors are shared on social media, kids were worried. Then, the timing of the tragedy that happened in Florida increased anxiety. When we hear about those kinds of things, we start applying them to our own lives. All of those things that occured at the same time increased the fear that we were dealing with.“
O’Brien said that the Fla. shooting added onto the stress associated with these events.
“For sure, I was worried there will be copycats,” O’Brien said. “There have been a lot of school shootings, but there hasn’t been a mass one since Sandy Hook and we didn’t have as much access to social media. Especially since that (shooter) was a grown man that did it at Sandy Hook but knowing that a high school could turn on other student. What if there were copycats? It makes me kind of nervous.”0