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Safety, security at New Castle schools

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

Safety continues to be the watchword at New Castle schools.

The bulk of Monday’s school board meeting focused on ways teachers, bus drivers, local law enforcement and school administrators are working to keep New Castle students safe.

New Castle Community School Corporation has instituted more than a dozen safety and security initiatives in the past 18 months.

Superintendent Dr. Matt Shoemaker presented an update of the initiatives to the school board Monday. Shoemaker also plans to post the list to the corporation website, www.ncweb.me.

Some changes were easy, like reducing the number of open entrances at New Castle High School in the morning from 18 to 5.

Other initiatives had many moving parts, such as the case of providing 225 Fieldhouse walkers with photo ID badges and New Castle lanyards.

Shoemaker said non-certified school staff (cafeteria workers, drivers and clerical workers) received safety training during eLearning days.

The transportation department has also been training on the new Transfinder Transportation Software.

This software is specifically designed to improve accuracy of bus stops, passenger side pick up/drop off and route efficiency.

New Castle schools also partnered with New Castle Police Department for “Project Stop Arm.” Thanks to grant funding, police officers are able to follow school buses and catch drivers who are ignoring the stop arm.

New Castle schools also utilize off-duty police officers as “school resource officers” (SROs) throughout the day.

Shoemaker told the board there are now five full-time SROs: two at New Castle High School; two at New Castle Middle School; and one that patrols all the elementary schools.

The New Castle School Board has also discussed installing shatter-proof laminate on doors and windows of the school buildings and redesigning entrances at the elementary schools to further improve school safety.

Parent concerns

New Castle parent Jessika Feltz asked during the meeting that school administrators use caution when it comes to adding more SROs to the school environment.

Feltz was involved with the long-term planning process at New Castle Community School Corporation over the past year.

Feltz told the school board Monday there needs to be some policy in place to keep to ensure SROs are being used only as security personnel and are not being called on to discipline New Castle students.

Feltz specifically doesn’t want teachers calling the off-duty police officers acting as SROs in when a special needs child is having a meltdown in the classroom.

Students with special needs have an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) that includes how school staff should respond to potentially violent outbursts. Police officers and SROs in the building are not always familiar with these IEPs or trained for interacting with special needs children.

“I know it’s a delicate balance act, but it’s just something that has to be figured out,” Feltz said.

Shoemaker said the issue will be on the agenda for the next SRO safety meeting.

Looking at new land

The New Castle School Board voted 5-0 Monday to allow Shoemaker and school board president Travis Callaway to begin negotiations on a piece of property beside New Castle Middle School.

The site was formerly home to Ameriana Insurance and is now owned by First Merchants.

Shoemaker said that property could be used to help the traffic flow around the middle school.

As part of the larger safety projects, the school board has looked at plans to build a new parking lot on the west side of NCMS. This additional parking would help take traffic off Parkview Drive before and after school.

More importantly, it would create a traffic pattern where all NCMS student can be dropped off or picked up without having to walk around cars.

If NCCSC can buy the former insurance building, NCMS traffic can get to the school off Bundy Avenue and then exit onto Parkview Drive.

“This is a safety thing for us,” Shoemaker said.

The increased parking and traffic control will be especially necessary if New Castle Middle School is to become the home of all the city’s sixth graders.

Shoemaker said the existing building on that property could also be used for New Castle’s special education staff. That department is currently spread out in multiple buildings.

Callaway said there are specific criteria school corporations have to follow before purchasing new property.

The New Castle School Board will meet again at 7 p.m. May 13 at 322 Elliott Ave.