EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of stories that will inform readers about measures being taken in Miami County schools — prior to the new school year beginning — to ensure the safety of students and faculty.
COVINGTON — While school has been out for summer, preparing for students’ safety when they return and reviewing school safety plans remain high priorities for Covington Exempted Village Schools.
“We review our emergency response plan and procedures after every safety drill and each summer,” Superintendent Gene Gooding said. “We review the plan at the end of each drill to determine if we have any weaknesses, or to determine if any part of our plan is obsolete or in need of updating. Every summer, we meet to review and revise our plan.”
Gooding explained that they are required to do a full review and revision and to resubmit their updated safety plan to the Ohio Department of Education every three years.
“We are currently working on this three-year revision this summer,” Gooding said.
The Secret Service recently published a school safety guide on threat response teams among other safety guidelines in the wake of recent school shootings. The guide also suggested schools create “targeted violence prevention plans” and “risk management options.”
While Covington does not have a multidisciplinary threat assessment team, but they do have an Emergency Response Team.
“That team is made up of administrators, guidance counselors, teachers, educational aides, custodians, the school nurse, and the school resource officer,” Gooding said.
Covington schools has two central reporting forums in regard to possible safety threats.
“We use the Safe School Hotline, which is the State of Ohio’s anonymous tip line service for receiving and investigating threats to student safety. The phone number is located on our district home page and on signage throughout the building,” Gooding said. “We also have a ‘Stay Safe Speak Up!’ program through Public School Works. This also allows students to report issues that affect safety. This can be accessed through a phone number or online. This information is also on our website and posted on signage throughout the school building.”
Gooding went on to explain how Covington’s safety plan has grown and “evolved greatly over the last few years.”
“The State of Ohio now requires each school district to submit a safety plan that includes very specific items. While the safety procedures are unique to each school district, the items covered in each plan must meet the State’s requirements,” Gooding said.
“In general, over the last few years, our plan has grown in detail and has evolved to cover many situations that were considered unthinkable decades ago, such as an active shooter within the building. While it is awful to contemplate such things, our current safety plan is very detailed and will help school employees, law enforcement officials, and our students if the unthinkable ever does occur at Covington.”
Gooding said that school staff members have received active shooter training using the A.L.I.C.E. method, which stands for “alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate.”
“Each staff member will attend a three-and-a-half-hour refresher training this August. That training will be led by Tim Cline, our school resource officer from the Covington Police Department,” Gooding said.
Gooding emphasized the support that the schools have received from the community, such as funding for the new K-8 school building that has allowed them to bring all students to one campus-like area.
“Our community has been very supportive of our increased security efforts,” Gooding said. “They have been very supportive as we have upgraded the fire alarm system, updated the CHS security cameras, replaced the CHS exterior doors, added ‘swipe cards’ to the high school, built a corridor to connect the high school to the new K-8 building, and continued to employ a full-time resource officer.
“The community has also been very helpful by providing locations to serve as our rally and relocation points if we have to evacuate the school building.”
Covington schools encourage students to talk to their teachers or other school staff members with safety concerns, and they will also be implementing a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program this year in order to promote positive behavior.
“We promote safe school climates by speaking to our students regularly about the importance of notifying someone if they hear anyone talking about harming themselves or others. We provide anonymous tip lines for those who are uncomfortable speaking to someone in person. We have two guidance counselors who work with our students. We talk regularly with our students about treating others with respect. We have a strong anti-bullying program and a strong Character Counts program,” Gooding said. “In short, we work hard to create an environment in which our students feel safe, valued, and able to learn to the best of their abilities.”
The school district paid $36,500 for the school resource officer in 2017-18 and will be paying $40,480 this year. This cost could be reduced if they receive any grants, and they also share the cost with the village of Covington.
“This will be the fourth year that we have employed a full-time resource officer within our district. The village and school district have a great partnership and split the costs associated with the resource officer,” Gooding said.
Gooding said that building the new K-8 school building next to the high school “allowed us to connect the two buildings with an enclosed corridor. Because of that, our students are able to attend one building that is secured throughout the day and staffed by a full-time resource officer.”
In addition to their school resource officer, safety plans, and emergency response teams, the new K-8 school building and the high school both include new technology to help keep students and staff safe.
“The new building has a state-of-the-art camera system, all entry and exit doors are secure, visitors must be buzzed in by our secretary, and the doors have a card swipe access that allows us to limit or grant access to the building,” Gooding said.
“The high school building has been renovated over the last few years. That renovation included upgrading the camera system, upgrading the fire alarm system, replacing all of the entry and exit doors, and matching the safety features present on the doors of the new building.”
As school officials address a number of different avenues to make sure students are in a safe learning environment during the approaching school year, one thing remains clear.
“School safety is our number one priority at Covington,” Gooding said.
Reach Sam Wildow at email@example.com