VANDALIA — The Vandalia-Butler City Schools held a community forum on Monday evening to address safety and security in the school district.
The forum came just a little over a month after 14 students and staff were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Superintendent Rob O’Leary began by stressing that the safety of students and staff is the district’s top priority.
“Our number one priority is safety and security,” O’Leary said. “This has come to a heightened awareness in light of recent events. We are trying to build a culture of safety.”
O’Leary said there were five key areas being looked at to build that culture: building security, safety and security practices and procedures, safety training, mental health resources, and ongoing assessment of safety and security.
He reported that the district has already committed to spending $150,000 over the past year on security upgrades. Those upgrades include security cameras inside and outside all district buildings, improved lighting, hardware to give more controlled access to buildings, and an upgraded phone system.
The Vandalia and Butler Township police departments will have access to security cameras and the district is considering contracting with a company to monitor student social media accounts more closely.
While not sharing details for security reasons, O’Leary said that the district goes above and beyond what the State of Ohio requires in the district’s safety plan.
One change that will be evident is tighter access to buildings during the day and after school, especially at the before and after school care, or BASE. O’Leary said it will take some adjusting for everyone.
“Whenever we increase security, we decrease accessibility,” he said. “I apologize to you now that some things won’t be as convenient. We want to maintain warm and fuzzy feeling a school should be, but things will be more inconvenient. Entry during school day – parents may be questioned when entering building. It is a fine line between being welcoming and inviting while increasing security.”
He also said that staff spent two days at the beginning of the school year to develop building-specific ALICE training. ALICE is an acronym that stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.
“We try to take into account the age of the students when doing ALICE training,” said O’Leary. “We try to handle that as delicately as possible because we don’t want to scare them.”
O’Leary also spoke about the district’s partnership with Samaritan Behavioral Health including a grant that only two districts in the state have received for additional mental health resources. He also noted that the district’s strategic plan calls for the hiring of a new mental health staff member.
“Mental health is a big issue and we try to provide as many supports that we can,” he said. “This is a school problem, but its more than that. This is a family, a community problem. We have students for seven hours a day for 180 days a year and we are willing to do anything and everything we can possibly do in the school system, but its not just a school issue – its a societal issue, a family issue, and we all have to work together on it.”
O’Leary said the district would be hiring a firm to do a safety audit in the district to make further recommendations.
During a question and answer period, O’Leary answered questions from the audience and those submitted in advance. He noted that the district’s safety committee, which had not met recently, would begin meeting to consider further recommendations to improve security.
Questions came regarding the installation of metal detectors, checking student backpacks, and whether teachers should be given the option to carry concealed weapons.
“Anything on table for discussion purposes,” said O’Leary. “My view would be to have retired police officers with special training. We have discussed this with the Vandalia-Butler Education Association. Some staff may be willing, but initial conversations didn’t seem to have enough interest of staff. These are the types of things we are wrestling with.”
He reminded parents that in a crisis, the first priority is to get students safe and accounted for, but assured parents that communication would come as quickly as possible.
“Every teacher has emergency notification forms for students in their safety kits,” said O’Leary.
One parent asked about social media use and what to do if something inappropriate is seen.
“Cell phones are the bane of my existence right now,” said O’Leary. “They can be a great learning tool tool, but a lot needs to be done to control what happens outside the school because then it comes into the school. We need your help. You should check your child’s phone all the time, randomly. If you see something threatening, let us know. Take screen shots, evidence is crucial.”
Reach Darrell Wacker at (937) 684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.