Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor
Wednesday, 19 December 2012 10:28
As parents hug their children a little tighter when they drop them off at school this week, they should know this:
• First, plans are already in place at local schools to handle armed intruders.
• Second, local school, law enforcement and mental health officials are now talking about what they can do better to keep students safe.
• And finally, those same officials realize that no training or equipment can guarantee children will be safe at schools.
Tuesday morning, local officials gathered to talk about how to keep children safe in their schools and how to help calm parents’ fears. There were officials from several schools, law enforcement, mental health providers, public health and emergency planners.
“It absolutely rocks everybody’s world,” Wood County Educational Service Center Superintendent Kyle Kanuckel said about the Connecticut school shootings. “What happened in Connecticut can happen anywhere.”
Over the weekend, local superintendents tried to reassure parents that schools are safe places to send their children.
“They are doing everything they can to keep their kids safe,” Kanuckel said. “We deal with parents’ most precious things.”
This isn’t the first time local officials have been jolted by mass shootings in schools elsewhere in the nation. And this isn’t the first time they have gathered to talk about safety.
“We’re not just sitting back here, not doing anything,” said Tom Clemons, executive director of the Wood County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.
In the last few years, the following steps have been taken to make local schools safe:
• More than $300,000 of a Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant has been spent on training and equipment in the county’s 10 school districts.
• The sheriff’s office was contracted to assess safety in more than 44 school buildings in the county. Reports were written up for each district, and safety teams were set up to address the needs.
• Several schools have limited access, locking doors during school hours.
• Some schools, such as those in Bowling Green, have camera access in the police division, so dispatchers can pull-up images to apprise responding officers.
• Teams in 25 school buildings were trained to implement the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.
• Crisis response plans with lockdown procedures have been formed by the sheriff’s office.
• A referral system for mental health services has been set up for students who exhibit behaviors that could be “red flags” for violence.
• Several schools have been trained in the ALICE system, which gives students and staff options other than hiding from intruders.
“We are making great strides moving forward,” said Captain Scott Frank, of the Wood County Sheriff’s Office.
But last week’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary has been eye opening for many.
“I think we’ve learned a lesson from last Friday,” Frank said. “If a shooter wants in, a shooter is going to get in.”
But that fact is not keeping local officials from doing as much as they can.
“The public is going to demand it,” said Bowling Green Police Chief Brad Conner.
Key to improving safety is community cooperation, according to Conner. Law enforcement depends on the public being the “eyes and ears” in many cases, he said, noting Monday’s arrest of an Otsego High School student who threatened violence at the school later this week.
Some of Tuesday’s discussion focused on actions that can be taken prior to an intruder entering a school — dealing with mental health and gun issues.
Dr. Richard Goldberg, executive director of Behavioral Connections, said current laws make it very difficult for a person with mental health problems to be involuntarily hospitalized. Even those who are deemed to be a danger can only be held three to five days — not enough time to really evaluate a person, he said.
“Right now we might as well be handcuffed,” he said.
Goldberg said a compromise must be found between civil rights and civil safety.
He also said that shooters in such cases often exhibit warning signs prior to committing violence.
“The red flags were there, but they didn’t cross the threshold to where we could do something,” Goldberg said. “You fellows cannot have a SWAT team at every school 24/7.”
Many agreed that more must be done to identify students or others with mental health problems and link them with services. Meanwhile, the stigma surrounding mental health must be broken down so families aren’t reluctant to seek treatment.
“It’s what keeps people from going into treatment,” Clemons agreed.
Also at the meeting, Dr. Bill Donnelly, local family psychologist, suggested that standard gun safety education be stressed, urging people to secure weapons and keep guns and ammunition stored separately.
The officials agreed to continue meeting to further identify safety measures adopted at local schools and other ways it can be improved.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 December 2012 11:53