Town hall forum focuses on school safety following Sandy Hook tragedy

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Fox59 aired a one hour, special event – Common Ground: Stopping School Violence – Thursday.

The town hall forum, held before a live audience at Fishers Junior High School, included a panel of school administrators, a police officer, mental health expert and a parent and student. They all talked about how schools can be safer, following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“This incident opened a door for communication,” said Kennedy Robinson, Hamilton Southeastern High School.

Robinson said she and many of her friends are now more open with their teachers.  She said more people need to speak up if they see something suspicious.

“You don’t know when a situation and a threat is real or fake. We should go to somebody every time and we don’t and I think that’s part of the problem,” said Robinson.

Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, Hamilton Southeastern’s superintendent is re-assessing the physical layout of the district’s buildings and every security measure in place.

“We’ve decided to do an audit of all of our buildings by a professional firm to look at some things we may have overlooked, a new set of eyes,” said Dr. Brian Smith, Superintendent.

Dr. Smith believes the biggest threats are young adults with mental health issues.  Behavior psychologist, Dr. Greg Sipes, said attackers can often be identified before it’s too late.

“These kinds of acts are usually performed by individuals who are hopeless.  If your teenagers, the older kids, know someone who seems to have lost hope, that’s a time they are dangerous to themselves and others,” said Sipes.

But if the worst case scenario does happen, teachers should know what they would do. Kyle Luck has a plan for his physical education students.

“You do think about what you would do.  Our doors as a practice are always locked, they are open, the first thing you do is close the doors.  Then you let your instincts take over,” said Luck.

“If there was a firearm you hear close by, you want to get (students) to our storage closet where the equipment is.  There’s also two exits so if it’s in the distance, you can get them out of there.”

Luck said he does not think arming teachers is the answer.

Lieutenant Michael Johnson, who is a school resource officer, said armed officers in schools are the best answer, as long as they build relationships with the students.

“I had a 7th grade student come up to me, identify me, told me my presence made her feel safe.  That was a big deal for a young girl to say that,” said Johnson.

As scary as the drills look, Johnson said they should be done to reassure the students they are safe.

“In North America, in the last 50 years, 0 kids have died in a fire at school, but yet we have a fire drill every month.  We have to involve kids in their safety but at the same time make sure we are communicating they are very safe when they go to school.”

The town hall forum was just the start of this important conversation. We hope you will continue the conversation in your school district.  And, if you want to talk about the discussion, we have a place for you to chime in on the Fox59 Facebook page, or, tweet using the hashtag #fox59townhall.

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