Safety taken seriously by county’s superintendents

DARKE COUNTY –  Providing a safe learning environment is a top priority for Darke County school administrators.

In the weeks following the Parkland, Fla. School shooting, The Early Bird surveyed each of the county’s eight public school superintendent’s to examine how they are dealing with safety issues.

Each of the districts – Ansonia, Arcanum, Bradford, Franklin Monroe, Greenville, Mississinawa Valley, Tri-Village, and Versailles – employ safety personnel on campus. Most districts hire School Resource Officers (SROs) from either the Darke County Sheriff’s Office or their local police department.

Although not officially called a SRO, Bradford Superintendent Joe Hurst explained his district has a police officer in the building every day to “complete very similar duties.”

In addition to a part-time SRO, Tri-Village also employs a part-time Safety Coordinator, a retired sheriff’s deputy, who assists with security coverage at their K-12 facility.

Ansonia schools increased their security measures this school year, said Superintendent Jim Atchley, by hiring a SRO.

“We have a full time officer from the Ansonia Police Department every day,” Atchley said. “The SRO and Ansonia Police Department were involved with our annual training with lockdown drills with students and staff.”

Several other districts have participated in active shooter training with the Darke County Sheriff’s Office or their local police department.

All but two districts have completed the ALICE training program – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate, also known as Run, Hide, Fight – or a similar active shooter program.

“Versailles Schools has not done an active shooter training to this point,” said Superintendent Aaron Moran. “We are considering this option.”

Mississinawa Valley also has considered ALICE training, said Superintendent Doug Dunham. “We conduct safety sessions for our staff and we conduct lockdown drills both announced and unannounced during the school year for our staff and students.”

Tri-Village participated in active shooter training with the sheriff’s office and administrators have continued a serious look at their safety policies, said Superintendent Josh Sagester

“The district has provided review of procedures through training exercises and monthly drills,” Sagester explained.

In 2016, Arcanum school staff went through active shooter training, said Superintendent John Stephens.

“The district has provided review of procedures through ‘table top’ training sessions and drills,” he said.

ALICE training was last provided at Greenville City Schools at the beginning of this school year.

“The safety of our entire student i-body and staff is of utmost importance to us at all times,” said Greenville Superintendent Doug Fries. “Our two most important tasks are to provide an education and keep every student and staff member safe.”

As for students or parents who hear possible threats of violence, all superintendents said administrators should be told immediately.

“Any threats should be reported to a district or building administrator, resource officer, city police or county sheriff,” Fries said. “All credible threats are investigated and dealt with appropriately.”

Versailles also has opted to participate in an online bullying report form, said Moran.

Calls or texts may be sent to 844-SaferOH (844-723-3764). Students may contact any staff member by email, phone, in person, or by calling any of the school offices.
“The main point is to get the potential information to the school or law enforcement immediately,” Moran said.

Students who make threats, all superintendents reported, are disciplined according to their school policy. Most districts said they would report the incident to their SRO, in order to involve law enforcement in an investigation.

“We will discipline in accordance with our school policy, but we take each threat seriously, and we have zero tolerance for threats,” Dunham said of Mississinawa Valley. “In most cases the student will receive 10 days out-of-school-suspension with a recommendation for expulsion from school. In addition, charges may be filed through the court system for the student(s) involved.”

Superintendents agree all threats should be checked out.

“In today’s society, all threats must be taken seriously and investigated immediately,” said Bradford’s Hurst. “If a student’s comment is intended to induce panic or violates any laws, they would be subjected to the legal ramifications on top of any discipline that would be appropriate.”

Since the Feb. 14 Florida shooting that took 17 lives, school administrators have been reviewing safety procedures.

At Mississinawa Valley, staff has “been instructed to keep monitoring student safety as they always do,” Dunham said. “And they were reminded to report anything they see or hear. We are also educating students to be careful what they say or what they post in social media.”

Tri-Village schools hold weekly safety meetings, Sagester explained, to discuss safety measures that need addressed. “Recent discussion has taken place with the board of education to review current safety procedures and any future security updates.”

As for providing teachers with firearms, several Darke County superintendents, including Tri-Village, Franklin Monroe and Arcanum, admitted the subject had been discussed.

Moran said “the idea of arming staff members has come up” at Versailles. “I expect to create some forums that would include the school community this school year” to discuss the topic.

At Greenville, Fries said since SROs were armed, the district had not considered allowing staff to carry weapons.

All Darke County schools have plans in place to inform parents of serious safety issues, by using One Call Now or a similar notification system.

Several districts also would use social media to post updates as needed on their district websites, via Twitter, texting or Facebook.

When asked if there was anything else as superintendents they wanted to share, Franklin Monroe’s Jeff Patrick summed up all administrators’ thoughts.

“School safety is a top priority and something we take very seriously. It has also become more difficult in today’s society to provide that safe learning environment, but it is something that we are fully committed to providing for our students and staff.”

PHOTO CAPTION: As part of the district’s safety plan, Greenville  teachers participated in ALICE training last fall. (Gaylen Blosser file photo)

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