#schoolsafety | WHEN TO GO IN – Officials discuss school safety in the wake of Uvalde shooting | News

When Matt Hilbrecht responded to Marshall County High School as reports of a shooting came in the morning of Jan. 23, 2018, he doesn’t recall having much time to think.

“I didn’t have time to put on a vest or pick up a rifle,” said Hilbrecht, now a captain at the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office, on Wednesday.

“It happens so fast you don’t have time to wait.”

In the wake of yet another school shooting less than two weeks ago at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Hilbrecht and other local officials spoke with The Sun about steps that have been taken, locally and statewide, to address school safety since the Marshall shooting nearly five years ago.

“They way everybody worked together is the way it’s supposed to work,” said Hilbrecht.

“I think our response time was three minutes. We had (shooter Gabe Parker) in custody in under 14 minutes.”

Parker shot and killed Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, while fourteen more were injured.

Law enforcement involved in the Uvalde incident have faced heavy criticism for perceived delayed action and frequently changing accounts of the shooting and its response.

Nineteen students and two teachers were killed, with 17 more wounded in that shooting.

Hilbrecht said the Marshall incident was initially “chaos on the ground.”

“I see children down, I see teachers trying to assist children. It’s overwhelming,” he said.

But training and “muscle memory” quickly took over.

Hilbrecht said by the time the first officer entered the school, Parker had already discarded his weapon and attempted to blend in with another group of students.

But for Hilbrecht and other officers, the danger was still very much present.

“Has he just went down a different hall? Is he in a different section of the building,” Hilbrecht recalled thinking.

In the end, Parker was arrested without a standoff or further injuries.

In the wake of the shooting, Kentucky passed significant regulations regarding school safety, notably the 2019 School Safety and Resiliency Act.

The act created the position of State School Security Marshal, and mandated that districts appoint safety personnel and create trauma-informed education plans.

The act also required school resource officers to be placed in schools if funding permitted.

A new regulation passed in April requires at least one school officer, whether privately hired by a school district or contracted with another law enforcment agency, to be present at each campus.

McCracken County Schools have overseen their own autonomous school police force since the shooting at Heath High School nearly 25 years ago.

Law Enforcement Director Austin Guill said Friday that he expects to have eight officers when the next semester starts, but that number could increase depending on how the state clarifies a “campus.” Some schools in very close proximity or the same building may not need an individual officer.

Guill said McCracken schools feature “a whole system of safeguards” many of them mandated by the state and some of them ahead of the curve.

Updated entry and exit systems, surveillance, law enforcement presence and identity verification create a “hardened, controlled entrance,” he said.

And in the event that an incident does occur, Guill said the force maintains a good working relationship with both Paducah Police and the McCracken County Sheriff’s Office.

While the school force would take charge if an incident occurred on school property, both the sheriff’s office and police department have jurisdiction and wouldn’t need permission before making entry.

Guill said he maintains policies and procedures dictating some aspects of how to respond to an active shooter or other threat, but much of such a response is dictated by how the situation evolves.

“An active threat will be immediately addressed,” Guill said.

Paducah Schools Superintendent Donald Shively said the school system has four school resource officers, three of whom are contracted with the police department and one of whom is employed by the district.

In addition to updates in infrastructure and procedures, Shively said Thursday that the school equips teachers with technology and their phones to immediately identify district officials and law enforcement of an incident without having to call 9-1-1.

He said the school system makes sure to maintain close relationships with first responders.

But for Shively, a critical part of both school security and fostering education is having trusted adults for kids to talk to, and teachers and personnel who keep close relationships with the students.

“Our vision is to know each and every child by name and need,” Shively said.

He said the school’s multiple mental health options also give students people they can feel safe talking to whether they’re struggling or if they hear something that concerns them.

As for directly confronting a shooter or other threat, Shively said he’s glad the district’s schools are in close proximity to the Paducah Police Department and are equipped with resource officers.

“I believe our local law enforcement agents would put their life on the line for any child,” Shively said.

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