Preparedness: IRSD aiming to further enhance its ‘model’ school security effort

SELBYVILLE – The key to combating violent intrusion and mass shootings is being prepared.

That’s the belief of Rodney Layfield, a Delaware State Police captain, parent of three children in the Indian River School District and member of the district’s board of education.

                 Rodney Layfield

“What we have found is that preparedness is the only way to attack this,” said Mr. Layfield at the Feb. 26 school board meeting. “You can close your eyes, click your heels and hope it doesn’t happen here, or you can prepare.”

School and public safety has been paramount in the aftermath of the Valentine’s Day massacre at a Florida school that left 17 dead and more than a dozen others wounded.

For several years, Indian River School District has had notable security presence.

Currently, there are five School Resource Officers, all current members of local or state police agencies.

Every school in the district is armed with authorized gun-carrying constables. All are former members of law enforcement.

“Indian River School District is a model for school safety,” said Mr. Layfield. “With our SROs and our constables, it is a model in the state of Delaware, not only Delaware but also the nation.”

There are other measures.

All exterior doors are locked. The only access is the main entry, which features camera surveillance monitoring and buzz-in door systems. Authorized school staff are issued swipe-cards.

Classroom doors are locked during instruction.

“If there are students in that classroom and class is being conducted, that door is closed and locked,” said IRSD spokesman David Maull. “That has been standard practice in our schools for a couple of years now.”

Preparedness isn’t stopping there.

During a tabletop exercise held Feb. 16 over the recent Presidents Day holiday, IRSD school safety committee members were given a brief overview and introduction to VIPR (Violent Intruder Preparedness and Response).

“We have at least 13 to 15 members at our local Troop 4 trained on this and we will be rolling this out to the public in the future,” said Mr. Layfield, noting the tabletop exercise – conducted just two days after the Stoneman Douglas School shooting in Parkland, Fla. – had already been scheduled months in advance to take advantage of the day when the students were not in school.

Plans are to publicly introduce and share VIPR at the March or April board of education meeting. Presentation will include a PowerPoint to educate the public and also roll this out to the teachers, Mr. Layfield said.

Present at the Feb. 26 board meeting were five members of law enforcement: Mr. Layfield; fellow board members W. Scot Collins, Selbyville’s police chief; and Derek Cathell, a trooper at Troop 4; a School Resource Officer; and Ocean View Chief Ken McLaughlin, whose department’s coverage area includes Lord Baltimore Elementary.

“I think that just shows that you have law enforcement with a buy-in to do whatever we can to help make our schools safe,” Mr. Layfield said. “What I’d like to do in closing is thank the support of the community and also this board. The last time we voted was for a current expense referendum, and there was a majority of this board that supported that current expense referendum. And the public supported the 8 cents (tax-rate increase) that we asked for public safety. So, we got a buy-in from the public. And I want you to know we are doing everything we can to be prepared. Preparedness is the key.”

Mr. Layfield reaffirmed the IRSD is a “model that many other districts are starting to follow. What we are doing is preparing for this incident when it happens. I think the best preparedness is having a good armed person to protect our kids. So, the bad man comes through the door … he is met with an armed gunman.”

That led to board discussion on signage.

School board member Dr. Donald Hattier referred to a Texas school district that has put signs out front with notice that there are armed personnel in the school in efforts to protect students.

“Have we had any thought of putting something like that in front of our schools?” Dr. Hattier asked.

“I like the idea because I think it could deter but that is something that we could discuss as a board,” said Mr. Layfield. “If you are under the assumption that only the constable and only the uniformed officer are the only people armed in the school, you might be surprised.”

“I agree with you. It would be nice to put a sign up to deter anybody coming in,” Mr. Layfield added. “But I’m a military man and I also don’t think we throw all of our cards on the table; we keep a few in reserve to provide safety to our students.”

Board member James Fritz, who missed the district’s most recent Building and Grounds Committee meeting because he was out of town, said it is his understanding the sign issue was brought up at that meeting with a proposal for signage that would make notice that concealed weapons are prohibited.

“Quite frankly I don’t like these (weapons are prohibited) signs because it makes it sound like there are no guns at all on the property,” said Mr. Fritz.

“Seconding to that, is anybody on this board going to post a sign like that on their own house? If we wouldn’t put it on our own house why would we put it on a school building?” said Dr. Hattier. “If you simply post a notice that says this is a gun-free school zone you have just created a free-fire zone. People know that. And if you wouldn’t put a sign like that on your house, why would you put it on your school?”

“I think it is still a better bet if you put a sign out front that says, ‘We will protect our kids to the best ability that we can,’” said Dr. Hattier.

“Doc, I like your sign better,” said Mr. Layfield.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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