Delaware News

Shooting ushers changes into county schools

Delaware, Big Walnut plan to tighten security in various ways

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The recent events in Newtown, Conn., are shaping school safety discussions in Delaware County.

The Delaware school board has begun discussions as the district prepares to ramp up its safety procedures in light of last month's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Amid the discussion of building renovations and additions to be funded as part of the bond issue the district hopes to pass in May, the board has talked about incorporating a redesign of all building entrances.

"Safety is something we were already discussing, but it has gained more emphasis after the horrible incidents in Connecticut," said Superintendent Paul Craft.

Craft said each building is unique, so there will be several different solutions as to how each entrance will be redesigned.

"Some may see a buzzer system and some may have an observed area that all guests must pass through before receiving admittance into the building," he said.

In Montpelier, Ohio, the local school board voted to arm their custodial workers with guns. Some have suggested teachers should carry guns in schools, but Craft said that idea is not being considered by the district.

"My preference is that if we are to expand our armed presence in the buildings, that they would be licensed police officers or the equivalent," he said.

The district currently has two school resource officers who monitor the schools. Both are regular Delaware police officers who are armed.

Craft said the officers have been answering teachers' questions about safety procedures and drills.

He said after the shooting in Sandy Hook, he received several dozen emails with a wide range of opinions.

"I had people saying, 'never bring guns into any of the schools' to 'all your teachers should be armed'," he said.

Craft said the board and the city are continuing to discuss school safety and are allowing the voices of constituents to contribute to their discussions.

A public forum and discussion about school safety will be on the agenda at a combined Delaware City Council and school board meeting set for 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at Delaware City Hall, 70 N. Union St.

"School safety is still an area that we want to continue to discuss in a public-forum setting," Craft said.

During the Jan. 14 meeting of the Big Walnut school board, Assistant Superintendent Gary Barber offered an update on security measures, some taken since the Connecticut shooting.

"I think the one thing we've done a good job this (school) year is being hyper-vigilant, even before the tragedy in Connecticut," Barber said.

The district has revised its crisis plans, updated its building plans, held practice drills and met with law enforcement and fire officials to go over various emergency scenarios.

Since the shootings, Superintendent Steve Mazzi and other officials have instituted a few changes.

Special phones have been installed at the high school, the intermediate school, and at Big Walnut and Souders elementary schools.

These phones allow communication with the school office and also take photos of people seeking access to locked main doors. The phones and installation cost about $2,300 each.

The district will spend about $1,900 this year to use the services of the Safe School Helpline, which will accept anonymous calls 24/7 related to bullying, drugs and other threats to the schools.

In addition, an architect has reviewed the main entrances to those four schools to see if different configurations in the older buildings would make access to them more secure. No decisions have been made.

"We're just trying to balance between making our schools warm and secure and Fort Knox," Barber said.

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