MIAMI COUNTY — In the wake of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, school districts across the country are reviewing and evaluating their safety plans.
Locally, superintendents in the Piqua, Covington and Miami East districts shared what their districts are doing to keep students and staff safe, from drills and lock-downs to threat assessments and investigations.
Piqua City Schools
Superintendent Dwayne Thompson noted that all PCS staff members have received training known by the acronym ALICE — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. This active shooter civilian response training by certified instructors provides preparation and a plan on how to more proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event.
“Once a building goes on lockdown, teachers will respond to the situations as needed. Depending on the situation, there could be a number of strategies they will employ to keep students safe. It is key for students to be quiet and listen to the staff member in charge of them at that time so they know clearly how to respond to the situation at hand,” Thompson said.
We have safety plans at each building that are revised and approved by the state each year. We also have a great partnership with the local first responders that help us a great deal when planning or reflecting.”
Thompson added that practice drills take place throughout the school year as well.
In the event of a possible active shooter event, Thompson stressed safety of the students is of utmost importance to staff, administrators and law enforcement officials. He also discouraged the spread of rumors via social media.
”It may not be possible for us to communicate information out right away and students may be asked to silent cell phones so they can be quiet as well as follow directions more attentively,” he said.
“We also encourage everyone not to communicate false rumors or unconfirmed information at that time as it could induce panic, making it more stressful for everyone, and more difficult for school officials and first responders that are addressing the situation.
“When students are safe and there is factual/confirmed information that can be shared the police chief and superintendent will communicate this out as soon as possible.”
When incidents do occur — such as last week’s threats that resulted in the arrest of a 10-year-old boy for making false alarms involving Piqua Central Intermediate School — staff and administrators are diligent about quelling any fears students might have about their safety,” Thompson said.
“We try to be reassuring that our schools are safe regardless of an incident like this or not. Depending on the age of the students, many times teachers will take time to discuss current situations or answer questions students may have if they have seen the news,” he said.
“Sometimes parents will have general questions about current situations and how they may apply to our school settings. When that happens, they usually reach out to me or a principal for answers.”
Covington Exempted Village School District
Covington schools also utilize ALICE training to prepare their students and staff for possible dangerous situations.
“In short, our students and staff are trained to respond to each situation in the safest way possible,” Superintendent Gene Gooding said. “Depending on the situation, they are trained to barricade their classrooms and shelter in place, evacuate or fight back. While it is awful to think about our staff and students having to make these decisions in an environment such as a public school building, we want to give them their best chance to stay safe in any emergency.”
In addition to ALICE training, the district also has a full-time school resource officer (SRO) on campus.
“He provides a measure of safety that we believe is very important to our students and to our community,” Gooding said.
Covington SRO Tim Cline is a 2006 graduate of Arcanum High School and a 2010 graduate of Ball State University with a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology. He was a firefighter and EMT for Versailles Fire and EMS for six years and worked for two private EMS providers prior to joining the Covington Police Department in 2014.
He is a certified SRO through the National Association of School Resource Officers and is also the police department’s ALICE Instructor and a CPR/First Aid Instructor.
Cline said that they give students a refresher course on ALICE training at the beginning of each year using a video that the high school developed.
“We do it based on age level,” Cline said.
Younger students are taught to do exactly as their teachers say, but older students go through drills where they decide whether they should evacuate, barricade, or even fight back based on the information given to them. Cline used the example of a drill involving someone on the loud speaker alerting students to a possible threat or shooter in band hallway, so students far away from that hallway would most likely choose to evacuate and run, while students nearby might decide to barricade themselves in a room.
Entry points are also limited throughout the two schools and the school board office, which is located within the connecting corridor between the two schools. The doors are also locked during school hours.
“You can only make it so far without a staff member letting you in,” Cline said.
Administration and Cline also meet regularly to discuss how to better improve the safety of students and staff, Cline said.
“Providing a safe environment for our students and staff is our number one priority,” Gooding said. “We will continue to evaluate our procedures and we will do everything in our power to keep our students safe from harm.”
Miami East Local Schools
Superintendent Dr. Todd Rappold said the district pays Miami County Sheriff’s Office deputies by the hour to patrol the district, along with routine safety measures such as drills and lock-downs both inside and outside the campus.
“We change our plan to keep up with current trends. When we hear things, we change our plan and there will be things I will not share with parents because I don’t want people that would want to do harm to know every portion of our plan,” he said. “There are just some things we do to protect our kids and our staff that I’d never feel comfortable putting out on the board.”
Dr. Rappold said staff trains on a monthly basis a variety of scenarios. The majority of teacher in-service days are spent on training on school safety.
“We want to be safe, not only for our kids, but we are out here, too,” Dr. Rappold said. “We want everybody to be safe, including ourselves. The staff takes these scenarios very seriously.”
The district pays off-deputy deputies through the deputy’s association to be present at the school every day. The district has not participated in the School Resource Officer program for the last several years, but Dr. Rappold said he likes having different deputies at the district “for a different set of eyes” perspective.
“It’s been advantageous for us to have a different set of eyes on campus all the time. It’s nice because every time I have a deputy on campus, they’ll approach one of us and point out something different,” he said.
Dr. Rappold said the district will continue to review its safety options, including metal detectors and other measures.
“We are going to continue to look at different ways to keep people safe out here … we are not opposed to looking at any way we can be safer,” he said.
Dr. Rappold also said he relies on parents and students to be another set of eyes to alert officials to any type of issue, including threats. Dr. Rappold said he and staff often remind students to treat what they post on social media as if it were on a billboard on the interstate.
“Everyone can see it and everyone will interpret it differently,” he said. “If someone interprets it and they are fearful, then I have to deal with it. Just be cognizant of what you put out there. And I tell parents this, you need to be looking at your students’ browser history, their Facebook account, looking at your students’ phones,” he said. “It has to be a team effort.”
Dr. Rappold said parents need to be vigilant and check their son or daughter’s phones and computer history often and understand the repercussions if questionable content is found.
“I need (parents) to be vigilant also and help us. If they don’t, and their kid posts something inappropriate, you need to understand that I will need to discipline them and the next call will be to the police. This will follow (students) for the rest of their life.”
Dr. Rappold said measures are in place to address each issue, including its investigation of a social media comment made by a student on Feb. 19 when school was not in session.
The comment was not a specific threat to a specific person or group, but it was still alarming enough to warrant an investigation, Dr. Rappold said. School and law enforcement officials found the student responsible and deemed the threat to not be viable. Discipline varies in each situation as well, he said.
Dr. Rappold said he will meet with the school’s elementary PTO at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27 to discuss school safety issues with parents.