- Community Conversations
The Lakota Board of Education kicked off a new season of community conversations on Sept. 13. Nearly 40 parents and community members attended in addition to board members, district leaders and three Lakota school resource officers (SRO).
The community conversation program began during the 2012-2013 school year in an effort for members of the Board of Education to listen to the ideas, thoughts and opinions of residents on important school issues. Led by a third-party facilitator, each conversation begins with small group discussions that lead to one with the entire group of attendees.
The safety conversation began with an update from Board President Lynda O’Connor and Superintendent Matt Miller. O’Connor welcomed the members of the community and shared that “Security is not just one thing, it’s layers and layers. We’re always looking at the layers and how we can improve.”
Miller gave an update on the $950,000 security grant Lakota was recently awarded from the State of Ohio. While not all of the information can be made public because it relates to school safety, Miller shared that some of the money will be used to update school entrances and upgrade cameras and the Raptor visitor management system. He also shared that three additional SROs are being hired by the district: an additional SRO will be assigned to both Lakota East and West high schools and Adena Elementary and Shawnee Early Childhood schools will have a designated SRO, whereas, previously, one SRO covered both campuses.
School Safety Right Now
Jeff Stec, the program’s facilitator, asked everyone to discuss in their small groups how they feel about school safety right now. He then brought everyone together and asked, “What struck you about what you heard from your group?” The following thoughts were shared:
- A few new parents in attendance want more information about the district;
- Some people are feeling uneasy;
- People are cautiously optimistic because of the additional SROs this year;
- The most positive person in one small group was an SRO, which makes others in the group feel positive;
- Some people are concerned that anniversaries of horrific events may cause copycat efforts;
- One group stressed that a conversation about safety is not just about how parents are feeling, but how students are feeling; and
- A thought was shared that security is constantly changing because the world is constantly changing.
The groups were then asked to discuss “What are your concerns about student safety and security?” The following thoughts were shared when everyone rejoined the large discussion:
- If the Board ever decided to arm teachers, how would the police know who is a teacher versus an intruder?
- The mental health of everybody - staff and students alike - should be a concern:
- More preventative programs should be in place, starting at younger grades like the early childhood schools. This would be more helpful instead of having to try to fix things later;
- Can the teachers take classes to learn signs when students need help?
- Social Emotional Learning (SEL) should be called “connections” because the students are learning to make connections to others.
- We don’t want our teachers to be armed.
- Bullying both in-person and online is a concern.
- Parents must be responsible gun owners and make sure that children don’t have access to weapons:
- The community should demand this; and
- Gun safety training for gun owners should be mandatory.
- What is the plan for safety when students are outside, such as at football games, recess or field day?
- Fire safety - what happens when the alarm goes off during bell change?
- Do we have safety drills during classroom changes?
- Safety during drop off & pick up at high schools is a concern:
- Students enter the buildings at multiple locations and there are many cars in the parking lots. Drivers and students may not always be watching out for one another; and
- If the doors are unlocked during this time, who is watching as students enter and exit the building?
- If you’re on the second floor, how do you get out of the building?
- Is there a plan for helping physically disabled students?
- Can students get out of the second-story windows?
- The concern about safety shouldn’t get in the way of the school being a place of learning. The district needs to plan for the worst, but also plan for the best so that students go into school feeling like police are all around:
- For example, there may be concerns about recess, but we don’t want our kids to not have recess; and
- We should be teaching kids that these are life skills, it’s not just for school. School isn’t a scary place and you shouldn’t be afraid to go there.
- What are the first responder responsibilities and where do parents come in? What is the chain of command in an emergency? Who’s in charge?
- What are the communication protocols within the impacted facility?
- Where do we strike the balance between protecting our children but not scaring them?
- Should we consider metal detectors at our high schools?
- Substitutes should know what to do in an emergency.
- How are transportation situations handled? For example, a bus accident or breakdown?
Assistant Superintendent Robb Vogelmann, who is also a member of the district’s safety team, addressed some of the questions raised during this portion of the conversation. He shared that the buildings do have plans for outdoor events and how to assist our students with physical disabilities. Additionally, schools also plan safety drills with obstacles, such as a blocked hallway or exit to give students practice in this type of situation. Safety drills are also held during bell changes.
Every school is required to complete multiple fire, tornado and lockdown drills each school year. Vogelmann also shared information about ALICE training, commonly known as active shooter training. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The information shared with students is tiered based on their grade level.
“The hope is that our students will have heard and practiced this information so much, it’s an automatic recall if a real-life situation ever occurs,” Vogelmann told the group. In addition to student drills, administrators also participate in training to practice different situations. For example, roundtable discussions about steps to be taken during a hazardous material spill or severe weather warning during recess have been recent exercises.
Improving School Safety
The final small group discussion centered around improving school safety. Participants were asked to discuss “What would you request to increase & improve safety while still making school a welcoming environment?” As a whole group, the following thoughts were shared:
- There needs to be more parent involvement.
- Schools could communicate with parents more about safety. This would help to lessen the number of questions parents have:
- A suggestion was made to discuss school safety at open houses. Parents noted that while they understand that not everything can be shared publicly, sharing what is public could help parents reinforce points at home.
- With all of the ways to get in & out of the high schools, can there be some sort of system in place to make it not so chaotic?
- More advisors and social workers are needed to help emotional challenges.
- Many of these structure points can be addressed with the master facility plan. People need to get involved:
- What is the new safety technology that could be included once a plan is approved by the Board?
- Can the district look into retrofitting doors so an alert is sent if a locked door is opened?
- More SROs at every school.
- Students need to be made aware of the mental health resources that are available at school. For example, do they know that MIndPeace therapist is available?
- Would the district consider a parent-based auxiliary to assist SROs in the event of an emergency? They could assist not just with safety, but also medically.
- The Board should publicly commit to not arming teachers.
- The Board should publicly commit to keeping mental health tools, including Panorama surveys.
- A communication from the district should be sent to parents and community members reiterating that schools are considered a safe zone and you can’t bring a gun to school.
- Students need to know that you can text 911 and we have a tip line.
- We should be doing more to educate students so they know what to do if they hear or see anything suspicious.
- At the secondary level, should we gather student phone numbers and emails so schools can text students as well as parents in case of emergency.
- After every district meeting, there should be an encouragement for attendees to speak to someone they don’t know in order to help build a sense of community.
- Some attendees would like the social emotional learning curriculum to be more hands on for students.
- After students graduate, if there were safety concerns the school should be vigilant about tracking the alumni.
At the conclusion of the meeting, O’Connor reiterated that the school safety is the priority of the district. “Please know that safety & security is the most important thing for our students and staff. I’m really thankful for the partnership we have with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office and the West Chester Police Department. Our SROs are so important to our schools.”
Officer Patrick Eilerman shared that his work as the SRO at West Freshman, Creekside and Lakota Central and keeping the students and staff safe are his passion. “I can assure you that everything that was discussed tonight has been talked about with leadership at Lakota.” He also stressed the importance of family and community involvement and engagement. “If our parents and kids don’t come to talk to us, there’s little we can do; Our students need to talk to people.”
- Community Conversations
- School Board