The Athens City School District Board of Education is continuing discussions about school safety after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February.
Athens Superintendent Thomas Gibbs said the board's safety discussions have been occurring over the last few months as the board has discussed the recently approved facilities master plan. Gibbs said the facilities master plan includes safety upgrades.
Those upgrades include access controls, a visitors entrance by the main office, a single button to automatically lock external doors and a significant increase in the number of security cameras on school grounds. All of those safety upgrades are part of the plan submitted to the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission.
The board has been discussing safety upgrades to the Athens Middle School in particular. Those safety upgrades include a pass-through entrance and sheltering students in the walkway between the gymnasium and the main building.
While Gibbs could not reveal the details of the district's safety plan, he said the plan meets state standards. Gibbs said the plan is annually reviewed by local first responders, but the district does a complete update every three years.
“We're in compliance, so to speak, with those requirements,” Gibbs said.
Local resident and parent Noriko Kantake said she feels good about the safety planning in the district. Kantake is also the president of the Appalachian Family Center for Autism and Disability Resources and Education, a nonprofit that supports families who have family members with developmental disabilities.
Kantake said she has heard multiple commentators suggest America needs more mental health facilities, a suggestion she is against. She believes placing those who are mentally ill into mental health facilities will not prevent mass shootings.
Kantake said she believes school safety includes safety from bullying, unfair disciplinary action, or seclusion or restraint.
“If those with mental health issues are integrated with proper behavior support, they are more likely to thrive and they are less likely to be violent,” Kantake said.
Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said the district and the police department have a good working relationship and said they have been meeting regularly since Sandy Hook.
Pyle said the police department regularly trains district employees in ALICE training. ALICE training is an active shooter response training provided by the police department.
The police department also completed a walkthrough of the schools over the district’s spring break mid-March to refamiliarize officers with the layout of the schools, Pyle said.
Multiple local police agencies would respond to a shooting threat in Athens County, Pyle said.
“If anyone is on duty, they're going to respond to that school regardless of where it is in the county and try to assist,” Pyle said.
The main law enforcement presence in school buildings is a school resource officer and a DARE officer.
Athens County Sheriff Office Deputy Jimmy Childs has served as the school resource officer for the Athens City School District, Alexander Local School District, Trimble School District, Federal-Hocking School District and Nelsonville School District for 21 years. He has a remote office in Athens High School.
Athens Police Officer Rick Crossen serves as the DARE officer and acts as a liaison between the schools and the police department in his role, Gibbs said.
Pyle and Gibbs discussed having city police officers on patrol stop by the school buildings to introduce themselves, visit the office and walk the halls, Gibbs said.
“Experience tells us that when children recognize, know, and trust adults in their community they are more likely to report incidents that concern them,” Gibbs said in an email. “The idea is to broaden our definition of ‘school community’ even more than we already have and to open up greater communication and engagement between the schools and the Department so as to better serve both our students and the broader community.”