MIAMI COUNTY — The Secret Service recently published a school safety guide urging school districts across the country to create threat response teams among other safety guidelines in the wake of recent school shootings.
The guide also called for schools to create “targeted violence prevention plans” and “risk management options.”
Area superintendents say that school safety has long been a priority for districts. The superintendents of Tipp City and Milton-Union schools both pointed out that schools are already required to file safety plans with the state.
Individual schools have taken a range of approaches to school safety, from training for various school attack scenarios, introducing a safe schools tip line, the use of school resource officers, and making upgrades to facilities.
According to Milton-Union Superintendent Brad Ritchey, this year’s safety plan review included both the West Milton Police Department and the Miami County Sheriff’s Office.
“In the most recent comprehensive review, additional scenarios were added to reflect a multitude of threats or threatening situations. Certainly, predicting every situation is next to impossible. The biggest change has been the range of circumstances that must be considered,” Ritchey said.
Ritchey said the district is fortunate to have a close relationship with both law enforcement agencies, which he called “essential” to student safety.
The school district is looking to have a school resource office on-site full-time next school year. Previously, the district utilized part-time personnel. The district is working with a private company to finalize an agreement, Ritchey said. He hopes the agreement will go to the school board for consideration by the end of the month.
The district makes updates to security regularly, Ritchey said, including upgrades to the surveillance servers periodically. In the next fiscal year, the district’s spending will be about three times more on security than the previous year. This is due to the hiring of a full-time SRO, as well as upgrades to the building’s entryways.
“Upgrades are cyclical, so the increase in money spent on safety in fiscal year 2019 is not necessarily reactionary,” he pointed out.
Ritchey said the district also invested in having an administrator officially ALICE trained, and is planning to have another trained in the fall. The district is also considering additional training to become an ALICE certified organization.
The district has asked sheriff’s deputies to provide ALICE protocols “refreshers” to staff during the school year. Law enforcement also worked with groups of students to demonstrate evacuation pathways in the building.
Principals and other administrators meet with teaching and supervisory staff frequently about security, Ritchey said.
“Our staff members have been very good about communicating concerning issues to administration and student services personnel. Our counselors in all buildings are at the center of this communication link,” he said.
Ritchey also noted that sometimes situations that seem threatening are “often more about students in crisis — instances in which an individual is more a risk to oneself than others.”
Students have access to a reporting link through the district’s website, which allows them to submit concerns by name or anonymously. Ritchey noted that, “typically, our students will approach staff members with whom they are most comfortable when reporting any incidents and issues.”
A school psychologist or other behavioral specialist helps to conduct threat assessments after receiving information from concerned staff members, he said.
In addition, the district has worked to create a safe climate for students, Ritchey said. At the elementary level, the district has character education initiatives and uses positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) as a way encourage good behavior.
“We have counseling groups and sessions that focus on development of the whole child in grades six through eight,” he added. “We have a nationally recognized transition program, Freshmen Focus, at work in our high school to connect incoming high school students with an upper class mentor.”
Ritchey said the district is fortunate to have the active support of community organizations, including the local Council of Churches and the non-profit mental health awareness group Free the Mind Anchor the Soul. The latter has provided opportunities for staff training and increased student awareness, he said.
“We literally never stop thinking about student safety and how we can improve,” Ritchey said.
Tipp City schools
Superintendent Gretta Kumpf said that the district relies on close ties to local first responders to keep their 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, and local first responders are included in the district’s emergency plans.
Each building has a specific emergency plan, which is submitted to the state yearly, Kumpf said. Every three years, those plans undergo a “deeper revision,” she added.
A newer piece of the district’s security plan is an “emergency management test,” which involves working through various “tabletop” emergency scenarios, Kumpf said.
“In that, you actually involve EMS, the fire department and the police department,” she said. Those tests also involve district administrators. “It is a multiple hour exercise.”
State law requires schools to conduct tabletop tests, and eventually functional exercises and a full-scale exercise over a multi-year period.
The district and police department conduct safe school drills and staff training as well, she said. The district also has off-duty police officers in the schools at various times throughout the school day.
Tipp City does have a threat assessment team, Kumpf said, something outlined in the recent Secret Service school safety guide. Each building will have a point person and a team, which is part of the schools’ safety plan submitted to the state, in case of an emergency.
“We also know and understand, which is part of our tabletop exercise, there comes a point, depending on the nature and the severity of the safety situation, when the school has to relinquish to the police or the fire department,” she said.
The district has an internal system to log information, as well as a tip line on its website where students, parents or community members can report concerns or other information.
Over the summer the district is also working on various updates to L.T. Ball Intermediate and Tippecanoe Middle School, which include some security improvements. The board approved the $4.8 million summer facilities project in April, which will be funded with permanent improvement levy money.
Both buildings will be getting new doors and a door system with a sensor.
“That way we’ll know if a door is open somewhere it’s not supposed to be. We walk the buildings and check things, but we will actually have a door sensor,” she said. The district is also moving towards a door fob system for more of its buildings.
Kumpf also said the district is fortunate to have the support of the community.
“We feel confident, if we indicate there is a need, that they will open arms to help support families in need or our schools and our children,” Kumpf said of families, organizations and churches in Tipp City. “They’re just very responsive that way.”
Reach Cecilia Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.