Clark County schools work to keep students safe in the classroom

Clark County school districts are continuing efforts to find ways to keep students safe, and prepared, in the classroom.

Three Clark County school districts; Northeastern Local Schools, Greenon Local Schools and Clark-Shawnee Local Schools, are all scheduled to complete construction on new schools within the next five years and all three schools have looked at districts across the state for input on how to keep children safe.

Districts without construction projects are also examing their building security.

“You can’t be too careful these days,” said John Kronour, Superintendent of Northeastern Local Schools.

There were 24 school shootings (or an incident resulting in at least one bullet wound) in 2018, leaving 114 people killed or injured, according to Education Week, a journal that focuses on education in the United States.

Kronour said Northeastern has formed a safety committee to focus strictly on the security aspect of their new schools.

“We take security very seriously and we realize the community trusts us with the responsibility of caring for these students.”

Secured entrances

MORE: Northeastern outlines construction start dates for new schools

The two new Northeastern schools will feature security measures like film on windows to prevent people from seeing inside and buzz-in front entrances.

According to the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics, during the 2015-16 school year 95.6 percent of primary schools, 94.4 percent of middle schools and 89.6 percent of high schools had controlled access to school buildings during school hours.

Brad Silvus, Superintendent of Greenon Local Schools, said Greenon’s new school will also offer secured buzz-in doors.

“We will have secured entrance, doors on timers so that they are open in the morning and once schools start they lock down,” Silvus said. “Secured buzz-in on the front doors as well as auto and visual video of the entrances.”

Silvus said school officials have visited other districts in order to get input on security features, some of which are already offered at schools like West Liberty- Salem High School.

West-Liberty made several security changes after the high school suffered a school shooting in 2017, when 17-year-old Ely Serna shot Logan Cole in the chest at West Liberty-Salem High School.

Serna was sentenced to 23½ years in prison- the maximum sentence- last May, after he pleaded guilty to attempted murder, felonious assault and inducing panic.

In February, Serna’s attorney’s filed an appeal with Champaign County Common Pleas Court to consider vacating Serna’s sentence and to order a new hearing. The state has not responded to the appeal.

RELATED: West Liberty-Salem school shooter appeals for new sentence

In the years since, West Liberty has added new entrance policies, door lock indicators and escape windows.

Silvus said in addition to secured front entrances, Greenon school officials are also looking into implementing panic buttons within the hallways and classrooms.

“Those will be in place in the event we need to go into lockdown,” Silvus said. “Those buttons will be readily available and strategically placed for staff.”

Pressing a panic button will immediately lock down the building and secure doors from within, Silvus said.

Resource officers

Nationwide school districts are brainstorming ways to keep students safe as incidences of violence in school rises. One way some districts are amping up security is adding school resource officers.

The number of schools with a security guard, a school resource officer or other sworn law enforcement officer on campus at least once a week has gone up from 42 percent in 2005-06 to 57 percent a decade later, according to the most recent data available from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Northwestern Local, Tecumseh Local and Clark Shawnee Local schools have a security contract with the Clark County Sheriff’s Department. The contract allows officers to be stationed full-time at the schools.

Northwestern Local Superintendent Jesse Steiner credited Northwestern’s resource officer with helping to quickly resolve a threat involving one of the district’s students last week.

Other schools within Clark County have individual contracts with local police departments, like Springfield City Schools, which has a contract with the Springfield Police Department.

While security at schools of all grade levels has increased, the shift is clearer among elementary schools, where the number with security staff has gone from 26 percent to 45 percent in the last 10 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

This spike could be due in part to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting which occurred in Newtown, Conn. in December of 2012. The shooting left 28 people dead, including 20 children and the gunman.

‘Stop the Bleed’

MORE: Southeastern Local gets kits to stop bleeding in shooter situations

In addition to the increased security measures, some schools are also focusing on taking steps to help students in case a shooting does occur.

Southeastern Local Schools became the first school in Clark County to have Jacob’s Kits on a large scale throughout the district.

The kits, named for Jacob Hall, a 6-year-old student wounded in a 2016 school shooting in South Carolina, are used to stop extreme bleeding in cases like an active shooter situation. They were provided to Southeastern by Madison Twp. Fire & EMS as well with help from community donations.

“It’s something you hope you never have to use but it’s there just in case,” said Madison Twp. Lt. John Harper. “If you can stop the bleed, that increases your chances of survival tremendously.”

The trauma kit is named after Jacob Hall, a 6-year-old student who was wounded in a 2016 school shooting in South Carolina. The kits include a tourniquet, a trauma bandage, chest seals to cover gun shot or stab wounds to the chest, two sets of gloves, scissors, gauze and a quick instruction booklet.

Kits are in every classroom at the elementary and junior/senior high school, making 68 kits in total.

Southeastern Local and Northwestern Local both have one Jacob’s Kit located near their main office.

See something, say something

When the topic of school security comes to the minds of adults, some tend to think of it in terms of pre and post Columbine High School shooting.

The shooting occurred 20 years ago on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado. Two students killed 12 students and one teacher before taking their own lives in the more than hour-long shooting.

In it’s aftermath, schools across the county began to enact “zero-tolerance” rules regarding disruptive behavior, threats of violence and bullying.

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Dave Lyle, Security Director for Springfield City School District, said Springfield City has recently started focusing “zero-tolerance” safety efforts toward younger students.

The Springfield City School district has recently rolled out their new safety program, “If you see something, say something,” which teaches children to speak up when they feel something is wrong.

“We go into classrooms at the elementary level and do presentations and talk to kids about drills and safety,” Lyle said. “We have even designed a coloring book for students to take home and talk to their parents about.”

The coloring book features pictures of cartoon owls doing things like walking to school and playing on a school playground with captions like, “If something doesn’t feel right, tell a teacher or other adult. Weapons are not permitted at school and are very dangerous. If you see a weapon, tell an adult. IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING!”

Lyle said some children at the elementary age level are vocal about sharing fears they have about school violence and lockdown drills.

“That’s the thing about working with elementary kids, they are so honest when they talk to you,” Lyle said. “We are working to foster relationships around that and that’s what we are doing with the ‘see something, say something,’ campaign.”

Lyle said he thinks Springfield is a safe school- that most schools are safe.

“I think schools in general are safe places,” Lyle said. “Overall when it comes to safety it’s always evolving with new technology. It’s important that we keep working on making sure we have good relationships with police officers, attorney generals offices, and we work hand-in-hand with them to evolve as time goes on.”

3: New schools being built in Clark County with added security

68: ‘Stop the Bleed’ kits in Southeastern Local Schools

3: Schools in Clark County with officers from the Clark County Sheriff’s Department stationed at them

2: Years since the school shooting at West Liberty-Salem that left one student critically injured

20: Years since the Columbine High School shooting in Columbine, Colorado

The Springfield News-Sun is committed to covering school safety, including the implemenatation of new safety features in Clark and Champaign County school buildings.

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