EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the continuation of a series of stories informing readers about measures being taken in Miami County schools to ensure the safety of students and faculty.
BETHEL TWP. — In recent years, Superintendent Ginny Potter said the Bethel school district has taken steps to reinforce its security plans, including allowing staff to be armed on campus and hiring a school resource officer.
“There have been lots of positive safety changes in the last five years,” she said.
Since the previous school board unanimously voted to allow concealed carry on campus last year, the district has utilized staff training through the FASTER program, Potter said.
FASTER (Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response) is a program that offers armed emergency response training. Tuition for the program is covered by the Buckeye Firearms Foundation.
“There are certain individuals that will be permitted to carry or to have a gun on campus,” she said.
Potter described the training as “intense.” It includes 26 hours of training over a three-day class. Several staff volunteers who are licensed to carry a concealed firearm have taken the class.
Potter declined to discuss where any firearms might be stored on campus, keeping that information confidential as part of the district’s emergency response plan.
She said the district has worked with the Miami County Sheriff’s Office and the district’s new school resource officer to keep them informed of the district’s involvement in the FASTER program.
The district recently hired a school resource officer for the first time since 2011, when the district made cuts in spending and made the decision not to continue that service. Miami County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Warren Edmondson will be a part-time presence in the schools.
Potter said Edmondson will work with the group of staff members who are permitted to carry a weapon on campus, “although he does not run that group.” She added that he is also aware of and kept up to date on the district’s safety plans.
In addition to trained armed individuals, the district has implemented ALICE-based active shooter response training for staff and students. According to Potter, the district holds monthly intruder drills.
“That is to practice what we would do in the case of an active shooter in the building,” she said. “So the students either fight or flee or barricade in the room… But the goal really is to get them out of the building.”
Unlike other safety drills for fire or weather emergencies, Potter said the district is not required by law to have drills for intruders.
Potter said that local law enforcement, as well as a SWAT team, have participated in drills so that they are familiar with the layout of the buildings.
The district is also trying out a phone app that helps teachers keep track of students during an emergency by checking them off a classroom list to make sure they are accounted for, she added.
District staff members have also received some emergency medical training through the FASTER program, Potter said.
“Last spring, we did the emergency first aid,” she said. “All of our teachers went through the whole training.”
All K-12 staff members learned to stop bleeding, tie a tourniquet and to care for a bullet wound before emergency responders can arrive to a situation, Potter said.
“I thought it was very powerful,” Potter said. “We’re trying to stay on top of it, so the staff is prepared, hoping that we never have to use it.”
As part of the training, the district received about 50 free medical kits. The district also purchased the same amount to keep throughout the buildings.
Potter said the district is also using some Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports techniques, which is a program developed by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs.
She also highlighted life skills classes at the middle school level, which helps students learn to interact with their peers and develop conflict resolution skills.
A small change, but one that Potter sees as a helpful one, was asking teachers to come in about 10 minutes before students arrive.
“Usually things happen in the morning or after school,” Potter said, referring to bullying incidents.
The district also uses a reporting hotline, which can be accessed on the district’s website or by calling (800) LISTEN2ME.
Potter said the district has gotten a few safety tips through the hotline, usually about bullying, including one about a school door that was left unlocked. Potter said she was happy to be alerted to that issue so the district could reevaluate its system.
“Bethel has safety as its top priority,” she said.
The district has a safety team led by the high school principal that meets frequently, in addition to regular drills and training.
“I think we’re really headed in the right direction and we continue to evaluate things all the time to make sure our kids are safe,” Potter said.
Reach Cecilia Fox at email@example.com.