LAKE STATION | With the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and recent stabbings at a Pennsylvania high school in the rearview mirror, Indiana State Police's school safety liaison focused on threat assessment Wednesday during a training session in Lake Station.
Richard Hogue, who has been in education for more than 30 years as a teacher, coach and administrator, said "substitutes are one of the biggest bugaboos" in school safety.
More than 70 local educators, school safety specialists and law enforcement personnel attended the workshop at Edison Junior-Senior High School.
Hogue said substitute teachers and staff enter school buildings every day and often don't know what to do in an emergency. He said it is critical that school safety plans include ongoing training for substitutes. He said school safety specialists also need to have districtwide authority.
"There are two kinds of threats to assess," he said. "The first is the districtwide threat-assessment evaluation, which looks at the school environment and the community. The second is a student threat-assessment team to evaluate the status of students."
He said students also should be included on the districtwide team because they are "in the know" about what's going on at the school campus. In addition to teachers and administrators, the team should include members of the community who evaluate everything, including the school building, Hogue said.
He emphasized schools should continue to do criminal background checks on every person who is hired in any capacity.
"We find that bad pennies get pushed around. It's tough to fire school staff in Indiana," he said. "Thorough background checks need to be part of your hiring policy. It needs to be everybody, not just teachers, to prevent problems down the road."
While every school district is aware of the issues and concerns, Hogue hopes they take away one or two new components to add to their school safety plan, he said.
He suggested schools include in their bullying policy an anonymous reporting system for students and a plan designating a public relations specialist who would talk to the media in the event of a crisis.
Hogue commended educators in Lake Station and Lake and Porter counties for taking a proactive approach to school safety.
While educators and law enforcement were in the school auditorium for the training session, more than 640 students in grades seven through 12 attended classes in another part of the building.
Edison Principal Bruce Bush said this is the second workshop held at the school dealing with threat assessment. He said an active drill was held in October.
"Our goal is to increase the strategies we use to make sure that students and staff are safe in our facility," he said.