Carmel Clay Schools aims to have ‘single most comprehensive school safety program in the U.S.’

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Cathryn Biddle and her young family moved to Carmel in 2021 for its top performing public schools, joining the community in plenty of time for her son to begin kindergarten.

But after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 that left 19 elementary students and two teachers dead, Biddle – like many parents – felt a bit uneasy about the thought of sending her son to school.

She has full confidence in the safety protocols at CCS but hearing of students being massacred at school is enough to give any parent pause.

“I think CCS is doing their absolute best. They have so many safety measures in place and are really on the cutting edge when it comes to securing schools and classrooms. I don’t have any concerns about what they are doing, and I don’t think they could possibly handle it better,” Biddle said. “Unfortunately putting the responsibility on the victims to prevent an active shooter situation isn’t working. Time and time again there are mass shootings.”

While the shooting in Uvalde once again turned parents’ attention to student safety, it’s the focus for CCS Director of Student Services David Woodward every day. He is responsible for the district’s school security efforts and mental health initiatives, both of which are designed to protect students and staff.

“Our goal is to be the single most comprehensive school safety program in the U.S.,” said Woodward, who spent 13 years as the director of school building, physical security and safety for the Indiana Dept. of Education before joining CCS in 2018.

CCS has taken several steps to strengthen security measures during Woodward’s tenure, including redesigning entryways and upgrading visitor check-in software that updates daily with Indiana arrest records.

These changes don’t matter, however, if school staff and students don’t know how to respond in an emergency, he said.

“Almost every school has upgraded their facilities and safety protocols over the last few years, but the key is making sure everyone is trained on the fundamentals of those safety plans and of the facility upgrades and the safety protocols,” Woodward said. “That’s where things fall through the cracks.”

CCS school resource officers provide training each year for every single staff member in a school building to ensure they’re prepared to respond in the event of severe weather, an active shooter, fire or other emergency. Students are trained, too, during age-appropriate drills.

Among the most visible security upgrades at CCS in recent years occurred as a result of the school safety referendum in 2019, when voters approved a tax rate increase used to hire additional SROs and fund mental health programming.

Since the referendum was approved, CCS will have tripled its SRO force when the school year begins in the fall, as it will place one officer at each elementary campus, three at each middle school and four at Carmel High School.

Carmel Police Dept. Lt. Adam Miller, commander of the School Resource Unit, said SROs train annually to handle active shooter situations and spend the summer months completing building assessments, attending conferences and conducting other training to prepare for the upcoming school year.

“From our perspective, when the kids leave for the summer, for the SROs our job really begins,” Miller said. “We don’t just sit back and take the summer off.”

In addition to working closely with CPD, CCS works closely with the Carmel Fire Dept., which has helped provide Stop the Bleed kits in every classroom and bus, mental health professionals from Ascension St. Vincent and other first responders and school administrators in neighboring communities, who meet regularly to share experiences and best practices.

CCS also relies on parents and students to promote safety by reporting concerns through the STOPit app, which can be used anonymously.

“We can honestly say there’s at leat three kids who are alive today, not from homicide but suicidal ideation, because they or a friend of theirs used the app and we were able to intervene,” Woodward said.

While the community can observe many of the measures CCS has implemented to promote safety, much of the work is not within public view, Woodward said.

“There are many things that go on behind the scenes (parents) can’t necessarily see or we won’t divulge,” Woodward said. “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to keep their kids safe.”


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