School board members took a first step toward assuring Jay Schools will have an “on-site armed capacity” in the event of a shooting incident.

Board members gave unanimous approval Monday to allow weapons on school grounds by those who have “been authorized by the school board to carry a firearm in or on school property.”

“My goal is to make Jay Schools among the safest in the nation,” superintendent Jeremy Gulley told the board.

Under the new policy — it is subject to approval on second reading in May — school corporation employees who volunteered, were screened psychologically, underwent firearms training from local law enforcement and were approved by board action would be able to access a firearm contained in a biometric safe in the event of a school shooting.

“This would be the last line of defense between a killer and our kids,” said Gulley, who has promoted this approach rather than the notion of arming teachers in the classroom. “This board controls who is authorized to perform that function.”

It would also be part of a larger strategy involving “hardening” of schools as targets and heightened awareness and communication.

Ballistic film has been installed on windows at Jay County High School, and further installations are planned at East Jay and West Jay middle schools as well as Bloomfield and East elementary schools over the summer.

Gulley said he has been in contact with architectural and engineering firms to see what can be done on a practical basis to make Jay Schools safer.

“We’re going to get an assessment done,” he said. “Let’s make smart changes.”

Gulley said he has also been in contact with Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit established after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, which focuses on helping schools — both faculty and students — identify and assess potential threats.

The “see something-say something” approach of Sandy Hook Promise will be adopted this spring and will include training sessions in the weeks ahead.

“The Sandy Hook promise component was a (JCHS) student suggestion,” said Gulley.

He also noted that Jay County Prosecutor Wes Schemenaur has conducted a workshop for local agencies on Indiana’s “red flag” law, which allows for confiscation of firearms in the face of a perceived threat.

“Our agencies in Jay County know better how to activate that,” he said.

Following unanimous board approval, board president Phil Ford added, “This puts us far ahead of many other (school) corporations in the state.”

Gulley will also be meeting with Jay County Commissioners in the next month to discuss how the expense of a full-time school resource officer for JCHS might be shared between county government and the school system.

An online survey of public opinion indicates that 97 percent agree with the general direction of Jay Schools when it comes to school security.

Gulley also updated board members on continuing efforts to deal with declining enrollment and the potential of further consolidation of schools.

Enrollment, he noted, has declined in every decade since consolidation.

“Now, it’s reached a tipping point as a financial model,” he said.

While the board agreed to closing Pennville Elementary School at the end of the 2017 school year and has approved the closing of Judge Haynes Elementary School at the end of the current school year, even more consolidation could lie ahead.

That could include — by 2020 — moving all middle school students to JCHS to make it a grade seven through 12 facility, turning the current East Jay building into a grade three through six school, turning the current West Jay building into a kindergarten through grade six facility and transforming the current General Shanks building into a home for central office and the pre-school program.

Under that scenario, the current Westlawn Elementary building and current central office on Tyson Road in Portland would be closed along with the Haynes and Pennville buildings.

“What we’re trying to do is get them configured in a way that still serves the community,” said Gulley.

While such a consolidation would reduce operating expenses, it would also involve a capital investment to alter the remaining buildings.

“Cost estimates we’ll bring back to you … in June,” said Gulley.