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Tri-State schools making moves to bolster security this summer

Posted at 8:38 AM, Jul 06, 2016

CINCINNATI -- From boosting building security to participating in safety training, many Greater Cincinnati school officials have their sights set on crisis management and prevention this summer.

“It’s an ongoing process,” said David Foster, director of maintenance and facilities for Sycamore Community Schools. “It never ends.”

For Sycamore, part of that effort includes a training session led by FBI Special Agent Kristen Cadieux. During the session, which is being offered in early August, school staff will learn about signs that might precede a security threat, particularly in the form of an active shooter.

“They’re trying to get across more of what to look for,” Foster said.

In addition to identifying warning signs, the session will cover the steps individuals should take if they recognize a possible threat.

The training will be geared toward school administrators, supervisors and office staff.

“It’s basically people who would be the first line, who people would see or deal directly with,” Foster said.

If there is additional space in the training session, he hopes to invite administrators from other nearby districts as well.

The district also will release a video at the start of the school year that will walk students and their families through Sycamore’s evacuation procedures and where parents should go to reunite with their students in the event of a crisis.

The efforts follow a school year during which 15-year-old Austin Hancock shot two fellow students at Madison High School and numerous other students were arrested for threats in Lebanon, Edgewood, Waynesville, Springboro and Covington Independent schools.

Despite the timing, both the FBI training and the video were in the works before the shooting and threats in other districts.

“It was just timely because of what happened in the midst of all this,” said Mallory Bonbright, chief public relations and communications officer for Sycamore Community Schools.

Many families in the wake of the Madison High School shooting went straight to the school to pick up their students, although protocols typically call for reuniting families with students away from the school campus.

“It was a great example of why we’re doing this (video),” Bonbright said.

The security video will be sent out to Sycamore students and parents via email at the start of the 2016-17 school year. It also will be posted on the district’s website and social media pages.

Many districts also are working to minimize security threats from outside visitors by building new building entrances.

“Unfortunately, it’s a step that all schools have to take,” said Ray Johnson, director of business operations for Forest Hills Schools.

As part of a districtwide renovation, Forest Hills is in the midst of adding security vestibules at all buildings. Visitors enter the building through an unlocked outer door, which leads to a small room with a security window and door leading to the main office. A staff member can use a buzzer to open the door for authorized visitors, who must then pass through the office before accessing the rest of the building.

A drop-box is built into the window of the security vestibule so parents can drop off an item, such as a forgotten lunch, further minimizing the need to enter the building.

Like many other districts in Greater Cincinnati, Forest Hills Schools are getting new security vestibules for visitor access. Photo provided

A security vestibule at Nagel Middle School was completed in April. Two more are expected to be completed in time for the coming school year and the remaining buildings will follow suit soon after.

As with Sycamore, the upgrades already were planned prior to the recent rash of security threats in Tri-State schools. However, previous school attacks, like 1999’s Columbine High School shootings and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shootings, have contributed to new security measures and protocols, Johnson said.

“This was kind of the final piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Sycamore updated building entrances last summer and Lakota schools will wrap up a similar effort this summer, adding a security vestibule at the district office. Franklin City Schools also will get a security vestibule at Franklin Junior High this summer.

“We’re trying to target a better security flow,” said Craig Hatfield, business manager for Franklin City Schools.

The heightened scrutiny goes for students, too. Security cameras were added at two of the district’s schools last year and more district buildings are expected to get them in 2017.

While most security efforts focus on facilities, some districts incorporate other facets of safety into the mix.
Forest Hills district officials hope to boost cyber safety through a partnership with Cincinnati Bell with presentations, videos in school newsletters and social media posts.

The push focuses primarily on cellphones, safe and appropriate use of technology and risks of using certain apps.

“We’re trying to help educate them along the way and educate them of the consequences if they make bad choices,” said Christine McCormick, director of technology and information systems for Forest Hills Schools.

Even if school districts don’t have specific security threats or measures they’re working on, most have safety committees that meet regularly to discuss concerns, trends and security needs.

“I do not feel we have a threat, but that doesn’t mean you let your guard down,” Foster said.