Because the pursuit of school safety doesn’t have a finish line, those responsible for ensuring students’ safety and well-being plan to just keep running the race.
Not forgetting the lessons learned during the past spate of school shootings and incidents around the country, and following initial responses to those events, area school officials, the agencies and organizations partnering with them and communities as a whole are back at it, seeking new methods of funding and improving safety and security measures and mental health support for students.
Issues can’t be resolved with “a quick, overnight fix,” said former Wayne County Sheriff Thomas Maurer, who is now heading the Wooster City Schools District’s new security committee.
“We are working almost every day on something new,” said Maurer, a guest speaker at the Wooster district’s Safety and Security Summit 2.0, held Wednesday evening in Wooster High School’s Performing Arts Center.
Along with reviewing accomplishments following the first safety forum a year ago, ongoing and new efforts were outlined at the special board meeting dedicated to the topic.
“We’ve got to do a better job of marketing (the School Safety Hotline),” said Wooster Superintendent Michael Tefs, describing it as “a home-grown” endeavor based on the directive to “see something, say something, do something.”
“We need to continue to try to promote that,” Tefs said.
The public has been highly involved in coming up with ways to protect students, such as separating the public and academic portions of Wooster High School, and is primarily responsible for the 2019 district goal to offer social media support.
“By far what we have heard from our families,” Tefs said, “is we need to help with social media.”
To that end, said Becky Furlong, the district’s director of technology, the district is sponsoring social media expert Josh Ochs, who will speak at three different sessions in the PAC on March 4. He will give separate presentations for eighth through 10th grade and for fifth through seventh grade.
The third presentation will be geared to parents and is free and open to the public from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
“It’s not just a Wooster event,” Furlong said, welcoming members of the community and other school districts to attend.
Among Ochs’ tips concerning social media will be demonstrating using “devices with a purpose, not just as a pastime,” Furlong said, as well as showing parents how colleges will view students’ Google results and giving examples of “good” and “bad” social media posts.
Mental health support for students is a big item on the ongoing agenda of the district and will be implemented under an “umbrella of services” called The Wooster Way. Partners include Anazao, The Village Network, OHuddle and the Boys & Girls Club of Wooster.
Similarly, in the Dalton school district, “a big initiative is our Care Team,” said Superintendent James Saxer, comprised of parents, teachers, administrators, counselors and links to community organizations devoted to students’ mental health and day-to-day efforts to make sure they are adequately clothed and fed.
The question being asked, Saxer said, is, “What are the needs of the child … to ensure (his or her) success?”
“This is kind of new to Wayne County,” he said, and constitutes an endeavor the district will “go full force ahead with.”
“When teachers notice struggles or issues going on (with a student),” Saxer said, the team will identify needs and offer district services or referrals to assistance from community organizations.
One of the goals of the district related to mental health services is “increased clinical counseling support,” Saxer said.
“We have utilized our Title XX Grant monies provided by the Wayne County Commissioners towards mental health services for at-risk students and students in crisis situations through school-based partnerships with Catholic Charities, ANAZAO, and Family Life Counseling out of Richland County for our students K-12,” said Northwestern district Superintendent Jeffrey Layton.
To fund the safety and security component, the Dalton district, like the Northwestern school district, has applied for a Bureau of Worker’s Compensation grant related to security supplies and equipment.
Northwestern would like to use it to augment, expand and update key fob entry door systems, security camera hard drives and DVRs in school buses, handheld radios and other items.
Also planned are opaque glass coating to be installed on classroom doors and other locations and impact-resistant ballistic coating for doors and windows — a security device already used or planned in other area districts.
Dalton will also put back on the ballot a 1.5-mill tax levy for the purpose of funding school safety and security that failed in November.
One of the Wooster district’s new initiatives is a secure access vestibule, to be constructed in the front loop of the high school separate from the student entrance through which everyone now enters.
“That’s where all of our visitors will come in next school year,” Tefs said, noting, “We’re going to pilot (it at the high school).”
Emphasized in all of the area school districts is the partnership with law enforcement and the implementation of school resource officers.
“What we have every day is this kind of support,” Tefs said, publicly thanking the Wooster Police Department. “We are very fortunate to have (its) intellectual capital.”
“As a community we value nothing more than our children,” Layton said, and want “to share our ongoing efforts of ensuring the safety of our students ….”
Tefs said the district has “learned a lot” from the community,” whose input has led to “strategic priorities.”
Reporter Linda Hall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-264-1125, ext. 2230. She is @lindahallTDR on Twitter.