EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third installment in a series of stories that will inform readers about measures being taken in Miami County schools — prior to the start of the new school year — to ensure the safety of students and faculty.
MIAMI COUNTY — In the wake of multiple school shootings in the U.S. this year, the Secret Service released an operational guide last month that provides various measures schools can take to develop comprehensive violence prevention plans.
“The tragic events of the February 14, 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and the May 18, 2018 shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, demonstrated the ongoing need to provide leadership in preventing future school attacks,” the report reads.
“As such, the U.S. Secret Service, along with many of our partners, have redoubled our efforts and are poised to continue enhancing school safety.”
The guide also urges schools to put together a threat assessment reporting process that will allow authorities to intervene before violent acts are committed.
School safety is a longtime and ongoing priority for the county’s districts, according to administrators. Piqua City Schools Assistant Superintendent Tony Lyons said the district reviews its emergency response plans on an annual basis and certify them with the Ohio Department of Education.
“Every three years, the ODE requires that we re-submit Emergency Management plans for every building. During that time, we will work with all of our stakeholders to develop the most effective plan for each building. Unofficially, we evaluate our plans each time we have a drill. We communicate with schools in the county on a regular basis regarding safety,” Lyons explained.
“At our regular meetings with county superintendents, this continues to be an area of focus to share and gather information from each other. Our goal is to gather feedback from every drill or incident that we experience in order to create the safest environment for our students and staff.”
As with many schools, the PCS safety plan has developed over the years from being “strictly reactionary to being proactive and attempting to identify weaknesses and getting stronger in those areas,” Lyons said.
“Our goal now is to make informed and intentional decisions about student and staff safety that are based on research and data. We are constantly evaluating our safety plans, protocols and structures that we have in place.”
Lyons said each of PCS’ schools — the high school, junior high, Piqua Central Intermediate, and Springcreek and Washington primaries — has a multidisciplinary threat assessment team made up of teachers, counselors, members of the Good Samaritan Behavioral Health counseling team, administrators and a police representative.
“We identify a point person for each incident, which could be the building principal or our police representative depending on the severity of the situation that we are dealing with.”
PCS implemented their threat assessment in November 2017, when administrators were alerted about a social media threat. “(We) immediately convened our high school team along with the superintendent and chief of police. After an all-day investigation, our threat assessment team determined that we were at ‘low risk’ at that time, “Lyons recounted.
“Our parents were notified and there was not disruption in the school schedule; however, there were additional police officers and school administrators assigned to Piqua High School for the next school day to monitor the situation.”
The following day, the team reconvened after another threatening message was discovered. Students were released early so the investigation could be conducted safely. As rumors began to spread, particularly on Facebook, the team opted to cancel school for the next day. Ultimately, the responsible parties were identified and held accountable and the threat assessment team determined that students and students and staff to could safely return to school.
Lyons emphasized that PCS’ primary focus is for staff members to build high-quality relationships with students so that they feel safe and welcome.
“Through our PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) initiative, we have seen an increase in positive behaviors and relationships between students and between students and teachers. The goal is for our students to feel comfortable enough to communicate concerns with the adults in our buildings,” he said. “After the incident in November that led to our threat assessment and closing of school, a student contacted (Superintendent Dwayne) Thompson to inquire about additional training for students.”
In addition to the threat assessment team and welcoming student input/feedback, PCS provides all staff members with ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) active-shooter response training by the Piqua Police Department.
“Each year, staff members get a refresher course and all new staff members get the full training,” Lyons noted, adding that as a result of the aforementioned student’s meeting with Thompson and other administrators, students will be included in ALICE training in the fall.
Yet another significant step in the pursuit of school safety is the PCS board of education’s approval of $1.5 million to bring the high school and junior high up to date with projects including upgrading locks to electronic key-fob systems, increasing the security of the main entrances, and upgrading surveillance cameras.
“The Piqua Police Department now has access to all of our cameras in the district, and they can view in real time in the case of emergency,” Lyons said. “The process to update our entrances took more than a year to develop with the help of trained engineers and architects to determine the best research based approach to make these upgrades.
“Additional funds have been approved in conjunction with the Piqua Police Department for next school year to support a threat assessment officer, who will be on site each day in addition to our current resource connect officer that is provided by the Piqua Police.”
Lyons said the district also is looking into window covers for classrooms, as well as a system that will do an instant background check by scanning a visitor’s driver’s license and producing a secured visitor’s badge. The latter project could cost up to $2,000 per school, he said. “This way, we can instantly see if the individual has a criminal offense that we would consider a threat to our students and staff.”
The safety of our students and staff members will always be a priority of PCS, Lyons reiterated. “Superintendent Thompson will spend time updating the community at the State of the Schools in the fall. This spring, we met with members of our staff to review our current safety and security practices and to gather information for improvement.
“As we redevelop our safety plans for each building throughout the 2018-19 school year, we will be engaging parents and members of the community in this process as well.”