Schools evaluate safety plans following latest shooting

By Cecilia Fox, Cody Willoughby and Melanie Yingst

MIAMI COUNTY — Following the latest school shooting less than two weeks ago, national attention is focused on school safety. Locally, school districts in Miami County are evaluating their safety plans and efforts.

Superintendents in the Milton-Union, Tipp City, Miami East and Troy school districts offered a look at what their districts are doing to keep students and staff safe. Each stressed the importance of close ties to local law enforcement and agreed that school safety must be a community effort.

Tipp City Exempted Village Schools

Superintendent Gretta Kumpf said that, in addition to building security like visitor registration, controlled entrances and security cameras, the district relies on close ties to the Tipp City Police Department to keep their five buildings secure. The city and the school district have been working together on drills and protocols since 2007, when a law was passed requiring districts to have lockdown drills.

“We now have regularly scheduled off-duty police officers that are in our schools,” she said. “That’s a nice partnership with both the police department and our city.”

The district and police department conduct safe school drills and staff training, including active shooter training, Kumpf added.

District staff also attends conferences to learn what other schools are doing and gather information on any new school safety resources or techniques available, Kumpf said.

“We always make sure that multiple people are attending those and trying to bring that back to our district,” she added.

Each building has customized safety and communication plans. The schools are also equipped with radios and computers that can contact the county dispatch center and the city police department directly.

“We continue to look at additional areas where a camera may be helpful,” she said.

In addition to safety drills and emergency planning, the district will be rolling out an online reporting system for students, parents and community members. It can be used to report instances of bullying or other areas of concern and will hopefully help to involve the community in keeping schools safe, Kumpf explained.

“So if someone sees something, they can say something. Or if they have concerns, then it’s a way for them to report,” she said. “It will be posted on our website… I see that as an additional piece that helps us with the flow of communication and helps us stay on our toes.”

Troy City Schools

With concerns mounting over security within the Troy City School district due to troubling national news, Superintendent Eric Herman insisted that safety is, has always been, and always will be a top priority for the administration.

“Our push toward improving school safety started back in 1999,” Herman said. “We have changed and evolved through the years to develop a solid safety plan. The city of Troy has been instrumental in working with us to create a safe environment for our students and staff. We have been ahead of many others in the educational world, and we will continue those efforts in the future.”

Herman expressed that the actions of staff in addressing incidents of this nature with students as they occur nationally is relative, depending on the situation.

“What staff members do is really based on many variables, like local coverage of the news,” Herman said. “The first thing we do is evaluate our situation and do a self-reflective comparison. We talk with our staff to encourage them to stay calm and answer any questions that students might have. By helping them remain calm, their presence with the students is reassuring and calm.”

Herman also confirmed that procedures are set for staff members if a moment of crisis were to take place within the district.

“We have a master plan for the district we follow, as well as individual building plans that are followed,” Herman said. “We immediately connect with local law enforcement, and we make sure all students are taken care of and secure. Once the police department is called and on site we follow their lead along with following the protocol outlined in our master plan.”

In addition to these procedures, Herman insisted that safety training is a standard practice for district staff members.

“All staff members have gone through training on how to react to certain situations and what actions should be taken. They all have a checklist in their possession to help them review in any given moment. We have mandated training that must be taken yearly, and all training is reported to the local police department and sent in to the State of Ohio.”

Current procedures in place for notifying parents in the event of an incident or threat are currently settled on a case-by-case basis.

“It depends upon the level of involvement or threat,” Herman said. “This week we notified parents, because the rumors circulating were so wide-spread. It depends upon if there is truly a threat. Procedure used is generally ‘One Call Now’ to parents, and we do use our app as well.”

According to Herman, many measures of security have always been enforced at each building in order to keep students and faculty safe.

“All school doors are locked down all day when students are in attendance,” Herman explained. “All visitors must be buzzed in to allow access. Security cameras have been installed at all entrance doors with the capacity for visual sweep of areas surrounding the door, so that visitors can be seen before allowing access. All visitors must also sign in at the main office of each school and wear a visitor badge. Everyone, whether visitor or staff, must be wearing a badge while inside the school.

“We also have three full-time school resource officers working in our district, and it’s amazing to have them as a resource. The schools have an emergency notification system that will contact all Troy police within 10 seconds of first contact. Their response time to our buildings is incredible.”

It was expressed, however, that there was always some room for security improvement.

“The district is considering the addition of more cameras at building access points,” Herman said.

The staff of Troy City Schools and Troy Police Department feel that security in the district must be a community effort, and can often depend upon the action of one individual.

“We must all work together daily to communicate things we hear or see that are potential safety concerns,” Herman said. “Please contact the police or call the school if concerns arise, so that we can follow up to ensure the safety of our children.”

Milton-Union Exempted Village Schools

At Milton-Union, the district provides routine online training modules in addition to formal lockdown drills, Superintednet Brad Ritchey said. The district also performs yearly comprehensive reviews of its security plans.

“As a school district, we are required by the state to review, revise, and approve our security protocols every year,” he said.

The district has also formed partnerships with both the Miami County Sheriff Department and West Milton Police Department, Ritchey added.

”Both have been great partners in working with our school district proactively and lending expertise during more difficult situations,” he said. “We asked Miami County Sheriff Deputy Ryan Karn and Phil Osting to conduct an ALICE training review last spring, and we expect to provide similar training this year organized in part by Miami County Sheriff Deputy Roger Davidson.”

ALICE training is an active shooter civilian training response program.

Milton-Union is currently looking into additional training options including, but not limited to, designation as an ALICE district, Ritchey said, adding, “We are still researching this and other training possibilities regarding school safety and security and how we can improve our practices.”

While students across the country and locally organize walkouts to protest and voice their concerns about gun violence in schools, Ritchey said that district staff doesn’t usually deal with students who are afraid of coming to school because of unsafe circumstances. But he said that the school counseling staff has worked to develop partnerships with Samaritan Behavioral Health and the Tri-County Board of Health and Mental Health Services.

”Our staff members — classified, certificated, and other education personnel — try to always remain aware and involved with regard to student safety issues, needs, and concerns. They understand the power that one caring adult can have in the life of a child and work hard to remain attentive,” he added.

Ritchey added that the district tries to be as open as possible with the community.

”We try to remember how important communication is — we can almost never have enough,” he said. In an emergency, the district has a number of systems in place to communicate with parents, including automated calls, social media messages, e-mail, text and the district website.

Ritchey also added that the district wants to be aware of any online threats or perceived threats.

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.

By Cecilia Fox, Cody Willoughby and Melanie Yingst