The lower level of Upper Arlington High School’s auditorium was at capacity Feb. 26 and a small crowd overflowed into the balcony as the community came out to hear how the district and local police and fire forces plan to address safety in the wake of continued school shootings nationwide.

After a moment of silence for the 17 killed in a Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Upper Arlington Schools Superintendent Paul Imhoff stressed that Monday’s town-hall meeting about school safety wouldn’t bring all the answers.

But he pledged local leaders would work with the community to strive for the safest environments for students and staff at all Upper Arlington school buildings.

“This is a process,” Imhoff said. “We are here tonight because we continue to be committed to making our schools as safe as they can be.”

Imhoff, Upper Arlington police Chief Tracy Hahn and fire Chief Lyn Nofziger then addressed scores of questions audience members had submitted throughout the night on index cards, with the exception of requests for details about security strategies or specific students and staff.

Imhoff offered a clear response when asked if the district would consider outfitting Upper Arlington teachers with guns.

“Arming teachers? I would say never. Never,” he said, prompting applause and cheers from the audience.

Imhoff, a U.S. Army veteran, said he and fellow infantrymen and women spent “a lot of time” training for emergency and live-fire situations.

“It is disorienting,” he said. “I will tell you we would train on that for years and years and years, and it’s still incredibly difficult in that sort of a live-fire environment to be able to – with any sort of reliability – hit a target.

“It would not be safe, having just ... a small amount of training, to have weapons in our schools.”

Hahn said Upper Arlington police would follow the direction of the school board on arming teachers but added, “It would take hours, years of training to get teachers ready to carry in schools.”

“Teachers are here to teach and nurture our children,” Hahn said. “I have been trained to handle situations where threats are there. Teachers are not.

“... I think at this time, since they don’t have the training and they don’t have the mindset to stop a threat in a school that we leave things the way they are.”

Possible changes

Although neither Imhoff nor Hahn currently support arming teachers, Imhoff said the district must ramp up programs to better prepare teachers, staff and students to respond to threats at school.

Imhoff said the district hasn’t done enough drills and practice for such situations, but that would change.

“We’re going to have to have more drills that are a surprise ... and we are going to have to practice things at times that are not convenient,” he said.

The district is examining its “open-campus” policy at UAHS that allows students to leave school during the lunch period. Imhoff said he realizes the policy is a tradition and a privilege most students enjoy but said it’s one that may need to be changed.

“Safety experts agree ... it is more safe to have a closed campus than an open campus,” he said.

On the topic of installing metal detectors at schools, Imhoff and Hahn said it’s something that will be considered.

However, Hahn said, logistical issues could arise because the detectors would need to be placed at every school building’s entrance and manned by a police officer who could react to any issue that arises.

“We do not have the manpower, and I do not think the schools have the money to do that,” she said.

Safety audit

In addition to drills and more training for staff members, Imhoff said an outside consultant would do a safety audit, reviewing everything the district does to prepare for threats, as well as policies that allow students, staff and visitors to enter and leave buildings.

Some of the primary policies the audit will explore are whether the district should seek more school resource officers. Currently, one Upper Arlington police officer serves as a daily SRO at Upper Arlington High School and one splits time between the district’s two middle schools.

The costs for those officers are shared by the district and the city of Upper Arlington.

Imhoff said the audit also would provide guidance on additional steps the district could take, including outfitting all classrooms with door barricades.

Mental-health issues

Another topic discussed Monday was mental-health issues among students.

Imhoff said the district doesn’t have the resources to adequately address mental-health needs among the student body but is overhauling its programs for students with those issues. Efforts thus far have included working to make sure every student at every school has a “meaningful relationship” with an adult at his or her respective school, he said.

He also urged parents to continue to speak with their children in order to understand what is happening with them and at their schools and to continue to communicate concerns to district officials.

“Mental-health issues across school children are on the rise,” Imhoff said. “We have more mental-health resources than probably any school district in the area, and we do not have nearly enough.

“We have to be about knowing and caring about each and every student in our district.”

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate

JOIN THE CONVERSATION Tweets by UA_Schools