Michael D. Clark reports:
When it comes to improving school security there is no such thing as a summer break this year for local officials.
Instead of the usual leisurely, summertime pace of school board meetings overseeing district operations, many boards are now huddling over key questions about school safety.
It’s all reverberations from the Sandy Hook school shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December, when 20 children and six adult staffers were killed by a lone gunman.
Across the region, changes surrounding school security are speeding forward at an unprecedented rate as schools scramble to prepare for the opening of classes in August.
And for good reason, said Lakota Board of Education Vice President Lynda O’Connor.
“It absolutely blows you away how quickly this can happen and it’s hard to comprehend lethal violence against children, but it is there and you have to respond to it,” said O’Connor during a recent board meeting with West Chester Township Police about upgrading school security.
Those sorts of meetings are taking place across the region this summer, said Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, which represents nearly all of the state’s 614 district boards.
“I would presume most school districts are engaged in such efforts,” Asbury said.
In June, prompted by the Sandy Hook tragedy, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released a report on school safety urging all districts to update emergency floor plans made available to police.
In Kentucky, two laws have passed that now require schools to review and revise their emergency management plans in cooperation with local law enforcement and train faculty on that plan. A third law requires that four emergency evacuation drills be practiced within the first 30 days of school each year and again in January.
The security changes are widespread and coming fast for school systems across Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Upgrades include:
• Adding more school resource officers (SROs)
• Adding police substations to some school buildings
• Adding cameras and electronic buzz-in to building entrances
• Arranging for more police visits during patrols on school days
Many district officials are understandably reluctant to discuss even the most general aspects of school building security for fear it will aid those who would do harm.
“We take student safety and school security very seriously in Fairfield (Schools),” said Fairfield Board of Education President Dan Murray. “And it is for that reason that we do not discuss security measures in public.”
Schools ignore sheriff’s proposal for armed staff
No one has been more outspoken about using armed personnel at schools than Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.
In January, Jones pushed for allowing former police and military personnel trained in firearms and certified as substitute teachers to work in Butler County schools. The idea drew national attention in the wake of Sandy Hook. It would save districts money as the substitute teachers would provide at no extra cost armed resistance against a violent school attack, Jones said.
But his proposal has yet to elicit a single response of interest.
DeWine initially backed Jones’ idea and predicted hundreds of Ohio’s public and private schools would consider it.
“If I was on a school board I’d think of having someone in that school who was a trained person … who had access to a gun in the school,” DeWine told The Enquirer in January.
But when contacted for this story, DeWine declined to comment on Jones’ idea or the lack of response from local school boards.
Jones blasts local school boards for taking “an ostrich response by sticking their heads in the sand.”
“I’ve had two principals contact me about it and some teachers, but they (boards) will not pay the money to have (officers) in every school. They tell you they don’t have the money or that it (shootings) doesn’t happen that often but it does happen,” Jones said.
Some Butler County districts are now adopting, among other measures, anti-shooter tactics under an umbrella security plan considered by schools nationally and referred to as ALICE or Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate. Strategies include having students and teachers throwing books and cell phones at a shooter to distract the attacker and allow for escape. “It might as well be Alice in Wonderland,” Jones said. “It’s not a realistic situation at all.”
The lack of response from local boards has prompted Jones to take an unprecedented stance for the coming school levy campaign season: He will not support any school levy where district officials are not, in his opinion, adequately addressing security.
“I’m not going to support (area school levies), not one until I see them address the real problems – and not with make believe but with real school security,” Jones said.
Lakota school board member and former police officer Ray Murray said boards should consider the sheriff’s proposal.
“After all, he is the chief law enforcement official in the county and has the ability to organize and maintain deputies for the purpose of security at any venue in the county,” Murray said.
Lakota officials in June proposed a school tax hike for the Nov. 5 ballot that would authorize $6.5 million toward upgrading security at its buildings – including increasing the number of police officers in schools.
Terrell Whitehead, mother of three children in Lakota Schools, said Jones’ idea should at least be discussed by school officials and the community.
“I understand why some people would want that,” Whitehead said of armed subs in schools. “Right now I just think there are unknowns on how it could work positively (but) if they did it right and got parents involved, I’d be for it.”
But fellow school parent Kelly Bush of Liberty Township wants Lakota to have nothing to do with Jones’ idea. “It is ludicrous. It gives me chills just thinking about it and about how stupid that would be,” Bush said.
Eileen Cooper Reed, president of the Cincinnati Board of Education, said the Sandy Hook shootings raised even further the already high stakes of keeping school kids safe.
“It makes you take a deeper look,” Reed said.
Reporter Jessica Brown contributed
Posted in: Schools |