Safety top priority as students return to class

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The Springfield News-Sun covers local schools and education issues that affect our students. Look for upcoming stories on construction at West-Liberty Salem, GISA’s first day at The Dome and an introduction to the area’s new superintendents.

Back to school

Below is the first day of school for Clark and Champaign county schools:

Today: Emmanuel Christian, Northeastern

Tuesday: Tecumseh

Wednesday: Clark-Shawnee, Northwestern, Springfield City, Southeastern, Global Impact Stem Academy, Springfield-Clark Career Technical Center, Triad

Thursday: Urbana

Monday, Aug. 24: Clark State Community College, Wittenberg University, Urbana University, Catholic Central

Wednesday, Aug. 26: Greenon, Graham, Mechanicsburg

Wednesday, Sept. 9: West-Liberty Salem

School safety by the numbers:

$130,000: Contract for four school resource officers in Springfield City School District.

$27,600: Total three-year SCSD contract with PLE Group for school security consulting.

3,000-4,000: Students and staff who have undergone ALICE training in Clark County.

As local schools prepare to welcome back students this week, districts are upping their security to ensure the new school year is a safe one.

From finalizing state-required emergency management plans and completing staff response training, to installing new door access systems and purchasing state-of-the-art technology, local school districts have increased their focus and spending on safety.

The Springfield City School District Board of Education recently approved two contracts related to school security.

The first was a $130,000 agreement with the Springfield Police Division to provide four school resource officers assigned to the high school, Keifer Academy and the middle schools. That’s the same number of officers the district had last year, but its share of the price nearly tripled.

“Springfield City Schools is picking up more of the costs due to the city’s financial situation,” said board President Ed Leventhal.

The city got U.S. Department of Justice COPS grant money several years ago to support resource officer salaries, said Springfield Police Chief Stephen Moody. When that ran out, the division continued its partnership with the school district, paying $50,000 annually.

“With the strain on the general fund budget going into 2016, we decided that wasn’t feasible,” Moody said.

City officials sat down with the schools and they settled on $130,000 for this school year because it’s roughly half of 80 percent of the officers’ salaries. They work in the schools about 80 percent of the year, Moody said.

“Safety remains very important to the board,” Leventhal said of continuing the staffing level.

The other contract, approved in July, is with Kettering-based PLE Group Security & Investigations to redo the district’s emergency management plan so that it is in line with new state standards.

State laws that went into effect last fall and Ohio Department of Education rules which changed Jan. 1 mean schools have to adjust their previous school safety plans.

“What happened in the past was essentially every building came up with it’s own plan … they weren’t real consistent,” said Springfield Superintendent Bob Hill.

In light of tragic school shootings nationwide in the past few years, the state got involved and significantly increased the requirements for the plans, Hill said. These plans now must be submitted to the state annually.

The district will pay PLE Group $13,800 this year to overhaul its plan, including input from law enforcement, parents and staff. It will create an emergency operations plan, remediation strategies, procedures for notification, floor plans of all 16 school buildings and emergency contact lists.

Additionally, the district will be using a cloud-based system designed by NaviGate Prepared to create virtual binders with all the plans accessible from anywhere. It also will make crucial information available to all emergency personnel, Hill said.

“It links all our cameras to our first responders,” Hill said. The system also includes 360-degree photos of every room in every building.

The sheriff’s offices in both Clark and Champaign counties offer training to schools. Many of the area’s newly hired teachers underwent ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training last week.

More than 3,000 students and staff have gone through similar training, for active shooter or hostage situations, in Clark County over the past couple years, according to Deputy Scott Cultice. He is one of two Educational Support Officers who serve the county school buildings.

The Springfield area has avoided the large-scale school shootings that have haunted places like Columbine and Sandy Hook. Ohio’s only recent major school shooting was the 2012 Chardon incident, where a student killed three classmates east of Cleveland.

National school safety expert Ken Trump said there’s actually been “a tunnel-vision focus on active shooters” since the Sandy Hook tragedy of 2012. He worries schools need to focus on more common threats, including assaults and sexual misconduct.

“People say, ‘We need to do an active shooter drill.’ I say, ‘OK, when was the last time you did a non-custodial parent drill for your staff?’ ” Trump said. “That is one of the most common day-to-day concerns. Do the front staff know who has custody? Do teachers know? If a parent is getting aggressive, have we trained our staff on verbal de-escalation?”

Trump said thousands of dollars worth of cameras and fortified entrances is fine, but the “first and best line of defense is a highly trained staff and student body.”

Additional training and plans for every type of emergency are included in the new requirements, Hill said.

“Tornadoes, fire … it’s everything that you can imagine,” he said.

The new plans can end up being 100-200 page documents, Hill said, which means training so staff can understand their roles is essential.

“They are very extensive and expansive compared to the old ones,” said Norm Glismann, newly-hired superintendent at Tecumseh Local Schools.

Tecumseh recently got a Multi-Agency Radio Communications System, which allows school staff to summon first responders at the push of a button.

“They go straight to our dispatch,” Cultice said. “It’s like a panic button.”

Every school in the county has the MARCS radios now, thanks to grants from the Ohio Department of Public Safety, he added.

Two ESOs patrol all Clark County schools, one on the east side and one west. The sheriff’s office also has two D.A.R.E. deputies who serve the schools.

Deputies under contract in New Carlisle, Bethel Twp., Mad River Twp. and Moorefield Twp. will also stop in at the schools in their assigned areas during their normal patrols, Sheriff Gene Kelly said.

The county schools do not pay for the service, but do not have assigned full-time officers for specific schools like Springfield does.

“Shawnee and Tecumseh would love to have their own, full-time deputies,” Kelly said. “But they can’t afford it.”

Some schools looked into the DOJ grants Springfield previously used, but they require an annually increasing match by the schools that wasn’t financially feasible, he added.

Graham Local Schools made an investment in its building security over the summer, upgrading its phone and public address systems and installing key-card access control systems in all three school buildings.

“It was an upgrade at the elementary, and the middle school did not have fob system,” said Don Burley, district operations and services supervisor. “Now we have a district-wide system on all of our most-used doors. All of our staff will all receive fobs.”

Staff writers Jeremy P. Kelley and Kermit Rowe contributed to this story.

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