Michael D. Clark reports:
There are now frequent visitors at Lakota Schools who are armed but very welcome.
Butler County Sheriff Deputy Mark Gilbert pulled his cruiser into the parking lot of Liberty Early Childhood School about 1 p.m. on a recent school day as part of his daily rounds in Butler County’s Liberty Township.
His next visit will be at a different time during the school day.
It’s the latest strategy to strengthen school safety, say sheriff officials, who launched the new program last week for the county’s school districts and private schools.Schools nationwide have re-evaluated security in the wake of the December shooting deaths of 26 students and adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
In March, South Dakota became the first state to pass a law with provisions that specifically authorize teachers to possess a firearm in a K-12 school.
No sheriff department, however, in Greater Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky has been as publicly aggressive as Butler County’s in launching new school security plans.
“It’s letting the public know we have a good police presence in our schools now and we are doing what we can to keep our schools safe,” says Gilbert.
The new twist to school safety was prompted in part by the lack of action for another idea from Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones. He wanted to place armed substitute teachers in schools. That idea, unveiled in January, requires approval from local school boards but so far none have taken it to a vote.
“Not yet,” Jones says.
Gilbert is glad to add school stops among his daily rounds, which if time allows also includes classroom visits and maybe a quick sit-down lunch with students.
His first classroom visit had him fielding questions from youngsters he doesn’t normally get from patrolling the local community.
“Can you arrest squirrels?” asks one student, upset that a class project to feed birds was hijacked by hungry rodents.
Liberty School PTA President Daniel Colpi, who has a child at the school, says he appreciates seeing a police cruiser parked in the school lot and the impression it may have on anyone thinking about committing violence on school grounds.
“I hate to think about what could happen, so if it deters people from going to school to do such things then it’s valuable,” Colpi says.
Liberty School parent Susanne Page prefers this type of school policing to arming substitute teachers.
“I like weapons in the hands of lawmen that are trained and I like the idea that these are police officers from our community,” she says.