Worthington News

District leaders seeking ways to strengthen school security

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Like all schools in the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook School in Connecticut, Worthington is seeking the best ways to keep students and staff safe and secure.

The district has had extensive emergency plans on the books for years, but officials are re-examining everything and could make recommendations for additions to its security systems in the near future.

"We have good things in place," Jeff Maddox, director of innovation and school support, told the Worthington Board of Education on Jan. 28.

The Worthington schools do not have an elaborate system -- front-door buzz-in systems, surveillance cameras and security officers patrolling the hallways.

Any of those could be part of the recommendations that could come before the board following a security audit that is expected to be done in the next few weeks.

Maddox also will take into consideration the many conversations he has had with community members and the recommendations of the PTSA (parent-teacher-student association), building councils and the safety and security committee before making any recommendations to the board.

Currently, all school building doors are locked during the day, except for front doors. When he talks to community members about their concerns, installing buzz-in systems most often is on their minds, he said. He said buzz-in systems could create a false sense of security and are only as good as the training of the people who use them.

Thomas Worthington High School once had a monitor who would watch hallways and parking lots. For years, retired Worthington police officer Tom Verne filled that position, which was eliminated as part of budget cuts several years ago.

Thomas Worthington has security cameras in the parking lot. Cameras are supposed to be installed outside at Worthington Kilbourne next summer. The money to pay for those cameras was provided via the $40 million bond issue that voters had approved in November 2012. They were planned prior to the Sandy Hook shootings.

The audits will look at perimeters and internal features of each school and report what improvements could be made.

Some people question the need for such additions as buzz-in door systems, especially because such as system did not prevent the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Maddox said the advantages must be examined, regardless.

"We have to have things in place to reduce the intensity of an event," he said.

Facilities would be one part of the district's three-part approach to safety and security, he said. Also important are planning and mental health.

Four law-enforcement agencies work with the schools to be ready in case of an emergency. Each has digitized maps and extensive plans for how to handle any situation.

Buildings also have crisis manuals, crisis plans and crisis teams. Lockdown drills are done several times a year.

The district also operates a safe-schools hotline through which a student could report any possible threats or suspicions.

Mental-health issues must continue to take center stage if tragedy is to be averted, Maddox said.

"Tragic events like Sandy Hook don't take place without mental-health issues," Maddox told the board.

Not many years ago, mental-health problems were noticed mostly in high school and middle school students. Now problems are showing up as early as fourth grade, Maddox said.

The district has guidance counselors and relies on counseling from the North Community Counseling Centers.

Maddox and Superintendent Thomas Tucker also are working with the ADAMH Board of Franklin County to try to free up more money for mental-health services, including training for staff.

Teachers and others who work in the schools want to know more about how to recognize students who are struggling and how to engage those students' parents, Tucker said.

One of the strategies already in place in all of the schools is an emphasis on building relationships, Maddox said.

When a student enters a building, he or she should have an interaction with at least one adult every day.

Another emphasis is on breaking the code of silence, meaning that anyone who notices anything that does not seem right needs to tell someone who could take action.

Too often following a tragic event, it becomes evident that signs and signals were missed, Maddox said.

School board president David Bressman said it was good to see people energized because complacency is the enemy.

"We're never going to solve this issue, but we're always going to try to solve it," he said.

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