Reynoldsburg City Schools soon could have a "threat-assessment team" of mental health experts, staff members and police officers looking closely at student behavior in an effort to identify those who are isolated or at risk.

Nick Keisel, the district's director of safety, said schools all across the country are reviewing and revising safety plans in the wake of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February.

"We are looking at what lessons we can learn from Parkland and elsewhere," he said.

"We are continuously asking if we are doing everything we can to keep students safe."

The district spends $350,000 a year -- not counting benefits -- to pay eight safety specialists who are "specifically hired for their roles," according to district communications director Valerie Wunder.

Students and staff members participate in active-shooter drills several times a year. Building entrances are locked and visitors must show identification and be logged in by a system that can determine if someone is a convicted sex offender or has other crimes on his or her record.

This is just a partial list of what's already in place in Reynoldsburg schools.

Because the shooter in Parkland pulled a fire alarm to get students out of classrooms, Keisel said he has started conversations "with our fire department responders on how we can make fire drills safer for students."

He outlined current safety procedures for school board members at a meeting the week after the Florida shootings, but said new initiatives are being planned, including the threat-assessment teams.

Mental-health component

"If you listen to the safety experts, they are saying each school district should formulate a threat-assessment team that consists of members of the police department, school staff members and mental health professionals," he said. "These teams would work to identify any threats by taking a detailed look into some students' lives -- not to punish those students, but to provide help and determine if they are at risk."

He said mental-health support "is a big aspect" in keeping all students safe.

"If we can identify individuals at risk, track them and get them help, then we can possibly stay ahead of this," he said. "We need to find and connect with the student that is isolated or having problems and give that student the attention and possibly the treatment they need."

Keisel said social media also would play an important part in assessments.

"If kids are putting out their thoughts and feelings on social media, we need to figure out how to leverage that to help," he said.

"See something, say something" advice should be emphasized to all students, he said.

"If students see danger on social media or elsewhere, they need to bring it to someone's attention," he said.

The district will conduct a "vulnerability assessment" for each building with staff members and local police to determine which areas could be improved, Keisel said.

Superintendent Melvin Brown said Keisel and his team of safety experts work continuously with district staff members and students.

"Given Mr. Keisel's background (as a Reynoldsburg police officer), our team as a whole is extremely well-trained and does a great job of connecting with kids and improving the culture of our kids every day," Brown said.

"We look at different concerns and trends that are happening and find ways to address those," Keisel said. "Students know our safety specialists and know they are present for their safety and security, and they develop good relationships with the students."

Existing procedures

School safety plans include an "incident command structure" so all staff members know exactly what to do in emergency situations, Keisel said.

"We have over 30 emergency situations outlined in the plans, from active shooters to bomb threats, with detailed plans on how to respond to each incident," he said.

Keisel developed the district's active-shooter training, which is provided periodically to all staff members and at least three times a year to students and staff members together.

"We give the kids instructions over the PA (public address) systems and teach them what to do (during the drill), making sure our instructions are detailed and deliberate," he said. "We also have safety people watching in the hallways to see what we are doing well or not well."

One easy thing was to make sure the outside doors in each building have visible numbers, Keisel said.

"If we have an issue at door 12, first responders will know exactly where that is," he said. "We also have a robust camera system so that in the event of an emergency, our first responders can see whatever is happening in each school."

A radio system also allows staff members to instantly communicate concerns to police dispatchers and other staff members.

"Our safety plans are reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security each year to make sure they adhere to best practices for school safety," Keisel said.

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