German Village Gazette

After Sandy Hook

Central Ohio schools ponder security steps

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In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 elementary school students and six staff members, federal laws and policies regarding firearms and mental illness are the talk of the nation.

But some central Ohio parents are wondering how their children will be kept safe in the meantime.

Upper Arlington City Schools recently set up safety and security forums at each school in the district to address parent concerns.

Cameras and buzz-in security systems are being installed at all school front entries. That will allow all other doors to be kept locked.

"We need to tighten up our procedures before we put these systems into operation, but once they are in operation, people will be seen on a monitor and they must be buzzed in by secretaries," Chris Potts, executive director of business for Upper Arlington City Schools said. "We expect to have these up and running within a week or two of each installation."

All school visitors will be given a badge to wear while on school grounds and all employees will have their own identification badge. Anyone without a badge will be questioned, Potts said.

"If someone has the intent to enter a school and shoot people, they will probably get in," Greensview Elementary parent Greg Hargett said. "The best you can do is slow them down at the entrance. We have to take these measure and more to keep our kids safe."

At Westerville City Schools, Debbie Meissner, district health and safety services director, said a crisis committee meets regularly with first responders to review safety plans. As reports of the tragedy were aired on the news she said, "It was immediately obvious that the district would have to re-evaluate all options for keeping schools secure ...

"As the story unfolded, we knew this was going to change business for us forever," she said. "We're talking about everything. It has changed our lives completely. You know, I send my kids to this school."

Westerville Police Chief Joe Morbitzer said the district and police will work together to improve safety plans. He said every tragic situation like Sandy Hook provides a learning opportunity.

"This is a continuous improvement plan," he said. "What we will never do is hit a stagnation point where we hit a plateau."

Dublin City Schools are bringing back a safety committee and mulling over putting school resource officers in elementary schools. The district already has single-point secured entries at all buildings, paid for with a 2008 bond issue.

"There are a number of things we're looking at that will upgrade security and make a difference on how you get in the building even if you are welcome visitor," said Superintendent David Axner.

At Upper Arlington Schools a third-party risk assessment is planned. Increased police presence in schools, surveillance cameras in parking lots and emergency notification buttons under the principal's desk are also being considered.

Training for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate" --or ALICE -- is also on the table for Upper Arlington.

"ALICE is a way of training staff that teaches counter strategies during a threat," Potts said. "For example, maybe it would be better to evacuate your students if you can, instead of staying hidden from a shooter."

While active shooter training is planned in Upper Arlington City Schools this month, the Attorney General's Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy and the Ohio Department of Education began offering the same training statewide last month.

The first of five sessions on Jan. 17 drew 200 educators and 60 law enforcement officers for training on how educators can protect students if an active shooter is in their school or classroom, as well as how to spot troubled youth before a crime occurs.

At the Statehouse, the legislature is expecting some action in Gov. John Kasich's biennial budget.

"There will be proposals in that budget," said state Rep. Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City) and Ohio House Majority Whip. "It'll be up to the legislature next to address those goals."

Grossman is anticipating an increase in mental health funding in the budget. Elsewhere there have been a few sponsored requests to install metal detectors in schools, but measures such as gun restrictions and school policy require more discussion, Grossman said.

"I think we're still trying to evaluate what's going on to help our children and our schools. We can't have a knee-jerk reaction," she said.

Input from schools, law enforcement and other safety officials is needed, Grossman said.

"We really need to look to those experts for guidance," she said. "I don't know what the solution will be."

Some constituents have voiced support of arming school staff, Grossman said.

"I don't know if I agree with that," she said.

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