BW School District looks at security
By LENNY C. LEPOLA
News Assistant Managing Editor
School districts nationwide have been reviewing school building security since the December 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. But according to Big Walnut Local School District Assistant Superintendent Gary Barber, Big Walnut administrators have been examining security and safety concerns for at least the past six months.
While giving a security update during Monday evening’s Big Walnut board of education meeting, Barber mentioned a book, Great by Choice, written by Jim Collins, that describes great organizations as vigilant.
“It’s called productive paranoia, and one thing we’ve done a good job of this year is being hyper-vigilant,” Barber said. “Over the past six months we reviewed our crisis plans, updated emergency building plans, completed a safety audit, and completed practice and live drills; and we completed tabletop exercises, practice that’s not under fire, with the Delaware County Sheriff, Sunbury Police Department and BST&G Fire District.”
Barber also said school safety expert Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, made a presentation to district staff members.
“Dorn spoke to our staff about bullying and school security, and looked at Big Walnut Elementary School’s open classroom layout,” Barber said. “We are not unlike other districts with buildings built with the open school concept of the 1950s and 1960s.”
Barber said the school district had completed many steps over the past six months to keep building and student security as a primary concern, but had redoubled efforts since the Connecticut school shootings.
He described new access procedures at district school buildings, including the installation of Ai Phones at the entrances, a.k.a. pinch points, of Big Walnut Elementary School, Hylen Souders Elementary, Big Walnut Intermediate School and Big Walnut High School.
“Visitors press a button and a photograph is taken immediately,” Barber explained. “A secretary will have an immediate visual of that person and communicate with them via an intercom before they gain access to the building. Is this foolproof? No. But it gives awareness of who’s in our buildings at all times; and if somebody doesn’t report to where they’re supposed to be we can react immediately.”
Barber said because of building secretaries attending to other duties, someone desiring access to a building might have to be patient.
“With the Ai Phone there may be a time of day when somebody may be waiting outside for a few minutes,” Barber said. “It’s a balance between making our schools safe and Fort Knox.”
Barber said the Ai Phones cost $2,300 per unit; and Big Walnut was able to equip the entire district for the cost of one DVR (Digital Video Recorder) unit.
District superintendent Steve Mazzi said last week administrators walked all district buildings with an architect, examining building entrances. Mazzi said no solution is going to be 100 percent perfect.
Barber also gave an update on the school district’s plans to contract with an outside provider of an anonymous reporting system to conform to the mandates of HB 116, the Jessica Logan Act. HB 116 was named in memory of Jessica Logan, a Cincinnati teenager who committed suicide after being harassed over nude photos she sent to a former boyfriend.
Under mandates of the Jessica Logan Act, educators are responsible for investigating and prosecuting complaints (including anonymous reports) of cyber bullying, even if the material was created on the student’s own time, away from school groups and apart from any school-sanctioned activity. This would include emails, postings on Facebook and other social networks.
Barber said the Big Walnut district is entering a contract with Safe School Helpline, a communication service using Miami of Ohio graduates that provides anonymous reporting of bullying, violence, theft, drug and alcohol use, talk about suicide, sexual harassment, and weapons.
Barber said Safe School Helpline should go online next Monday, after students and parents have all been advised about reporting procedures.
Barber said he would be the first point of contact when an anonymous report is made, GRE principal Peggy McMurry will be the second contact if Barber is unavailable, and a third point of contact will be the Sunbury Police Department.
Barber said the Safe School Helpline cost is $.81 per student, or about $1,900 for one year.
“It’s for students, teachers, staff, administrators and anyone else in our school community to use 24/7, with a direct conduit back to our school district,” Barber said. “It’s what we’re doing to keep a safe, respectful and welcoming environment in Big Walnut schools. It’s not only a good reporting system for us, but also provides counseling 24/7,” Barber added. “We’ve been mindful, and will continue to be mindful, of a providing a safe environment for our students.”