Building Positive Relationships: Encouraging School Safety for Youth, Families, and Staff

This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris

With the recent shooting at a Noblesville middle school fresh in our minds, central Indiana citizens are growing more and more concerned about the realities of violence and how it affects youth. When kids go to school, they should be safe. Young Hoosiers need to know that they are protected from natural and manmade disasters so that they can focus on learning.

David Woodward, director of School Building Physical Security and Safety for the Indiana Department of Education, provided a bit of background information on the topic of school safety.

According to Woodward, Indiana code mandates that each school corporation have a certified school safety specialist who must attend the state’s School Safety Specialist Academy to create safety procedures for each school in their corporation. IDOE provides five days of basic training to each of these specialists, who are also required to attend additional training for two days each year to receive updated information and learn about best practices across the state and nation.

Woodward stated that, “State Board Rules require that schools have provisions to protect the safety and well-being of staff, students and the public in case of fire, natural disaster (such as a tornado or earthquake), adverse weather conditions, nuclear contamination, exposure to chemicals and manmade occurrences (such as an active shooter, kidnapping or bomb threat). The details of each plan are not mandated by the state, as local resources and coordination are vital. Our Safety Academy provides training on best practices to address each hazard, but we urge planning with local first responders as well.”

In addition to these protocols, Woodward mentioned that IDOE has encouraged further training by partnering with the Indiana State Police to provide an “Unarmed Response to Active Shooter” course and with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute to provide grant money for schools to support school resource officers and additional safety initiatives.

Along with traditional law enforcement training, school resource officers receive special training about the specifics of working with kids in a school setting. This is especially true for those supported by grant money, according to Woodward.

“The training for any officer in the state of Indiana is the same,” said Greg Dewald, a local school resource officer. “When you’re an officer in the schools there is a lot more training. That is where INSROA and NASRO come into play. When officers all use the same training source it creates a consistency across all schools. In Indiana, officers that are in the school every day are able to work as a police officer but also as a school administrator. It allows the officers more freedom to search a locker or a student for the safety of the other students.”

Dewald said that training from the Indiana School Resource Officers Association helps new school resources officers gain the same tools as current officers, while also helping the officers learn about effective procedures from a variety of communities.

“We are a resource to our members for all matters regarding school safety,” said Mike Johnson, lieutenant of the Fishers Police Department and president of the Indiana School Resource Officers Association. “We allow members to network and share information as well as put on trainings in as many fields as possible in best practices for school safety. [There is a] wide variety of topics ranging from safe afterschool activities to response to an active shooter. We also provide training through our partnership with the National Association of School Resource Officers. We adopt the NASRO Triad in our training approach that provides for [a school resource officer] to serve as an educator, informal counselor/role model and a law enforcement officer. Finally, we share policy ideas and practices as well as model memorandums of understanding that are essential to a strong relationship between schools and police.”

When it comes to school shootings, there are specific tools school resource officers can use to prevent such tragedies.

“In my opinion, prevention is the key,” said Johnson. “We have spent a considerable amount of time teaching ALICE or “Run, Hide, Fight” principles that focus on the student/staff response to the active shooter, and those things are quite important. However, having resources that identify kids at risk or programs such as “Text-a-Tip” that allow for anonymous notification when kids notice suspicious behavior are just as important. When a school resource officer has put the time in to build relationships with his kids and teachers, they will feel more empowered to let him or her know when something doesn’t seem right. Putting the time in to build relationships is quite possibly the most important thing an effective [school resource officer] can do to prevent acts of violence by his students.”

Woodward encourages schools to continue practicing safety measures as they are put in place, saying, “…there simply is no ‘magic answer’ that will address every situation. I urge schools to coordinate drills, and then fall back on that specific training when a crisis occurs. Training and preparation are key elements in keeping students safe.”

Woodward also emphasized communication, saying that “the national ‘if you see something, say something’ campaign is applicable to schools…. Research indicates that a large majority of school attackers have previously told someone of their intent. If a community member has reason to believe that someone may commit an act of violence, please contact law enforcement.”

In any emergency, especially one at a school, Dewald encourages students and staff to remain calm and listen to instructions. He also encourages families to discuss safety at home.

“All the information we teach the kids while they are here at school translates to everyday situations,” said Dewald. “They can take the information with them and apply it to any emergency situation.”

Johnson agreed, saying, “We want our kids to be prepared. Being prepared is key in making decisions under stress. We have many emergency responders in place to help the school and we will need the members of the school community to be prepared in any emergency situation.”

For individuals looking for more law enforcement participation at their local schools, Johnson says that there are two ways to involve officers.

“The first example is for a local school district to have a relationship with the local law enforcement agency or agencies in their district,” said Johnson. “The local law enforcement agencies can work in partnership with the school district to assign officers to the schools. This partnership does not always involve a financial commitment from the schools, but it is not uncommon for the schools to pay a portion of the salaries of the officers assigned to the schools. It is highly recommended that the officer be a consistent or full-time assignment. If it is a group of part-time officers, it becomes challenging to build the relationships that are so important. The other system is for a school district to establish their own police department. There is a state statute that allows a school district to create and employ fully sworn law enforcement officers. This is not uncommon in Marion County, as IPS, Franklin Township, Perry Township, Decatur Township, Warren Township and Pike Township have all created their own police departments…. Catholic schools, charter schools and private schools may have more challenges in obtaining officers; however, I would recommend they talk to their local police agencies for guidance.”

Johnson believes that families, schools and law enforcement can help each other to encourage safety.

“Build positive relationships,” said Johnson. “Encourage kids to report suspicious behavior. All families [should] know that it is okay to report people that are in need of assistance. Know and follow the rules and safety procedures and support schools and local authorities in their efforts to make schools safe. Also, try to keep what I call ‘family crisis events,’ such as domestic issues and custody disputes, from spilling onto school campuses. These situations are often very stressful and can even be dangerous events that should not be happening in school buildings.”

As far as his daily tasks as a school resource officer are concerned, Dewald says he generally enjoys being around youth.

“A good day is one where I was able to be out in the hallways and cafeteria interacting with the kids,” said Dewald. “It also would include being able to teach a class for the kids as well. A bad is one when I have to interact with kids who have crossed the line of school rules and illegal activity. Thankfully, the bad days are not the norm.”

In an effort to stop the violence, the Marion County Commission on Youth, Inc. (MCCOY) encourages all adults who have an impact on kids – from parents to law enforcement – to do their part to support their kids mentally, physically, emotionally, socially and academically. You can learn more at

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