Butler County schools respond to Secret Service security report

Some Butler County school officials say they are already taking the actions recommended by the Secret Service in a just-released report on national school security.

The Secret Service Thursday published a school safety guide, encouraging schools to develop “threat assessment teams” and “targeted violence prevention plans” in the wake of continued school shootings in recent years.

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The guide first calls for creation of threat assessment teams that should include “personnel from a variety of disciplines including teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, school resource officers, mental health professionals, and school administrators.”

Security in Butler County schools has been a high-profile and contentious issue for years but more so in the wake of school shooting massacres earlier this year in Florida and Texas.

And the county is only the second among Ohio’s 88 counties to have a handful of school districts band together under a new state law to pursue a specific, school security tax levy making its way to the November ballot.

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Moreover, among Southwest Ohio school districts, some in Butler County have taken the initiative in moving toward allowing school staffers who volunteer — and who are vetted and trained — to have access to firearms in schools during the coming school year.

Officials with the Secret Service don’t go that far but rather urged schools nationwide to coordinate and define concerning and prohibited behaviors, create a central reporting mechanism, determine the threshold for law enforcement intervention, and establish assessment procedures.

When assessing a threat, the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center called for school teams to look at issues ranging from weapons access, to a person’s “desperation or despair” and their capacity to carry out an attack.

In addition to stopping a potential attack, the plan also calls for creation of “risk management options” in schools and said school personnel should get formal training and work to promote safe school climates.

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Officials at Lakota Schools — the largest district in the county and the biggest suburban district in Southwest Ohio — said their multi-faceted approach to upgrading school security was started long before this report and in many ways already exceeds its recommendations.

“Our District Safety Committee meets regularly to review and evaluate safety protocols and is comprised of district administrators, school resource officers and representatives from West Chester and Liberty townships’ first responders,” said Lakota Superintendent Matt Miller.

“And our safety and security plans are never complete. For safety reasons, not all of our protocols are shared publicly, but we are continuously evaluating all of our safety measures,” said Miller.

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Chris Brown, superintendent of the Butler County Educational Services Center (BCESC) — which is overseeing the new school security levy for participating districts — said the Secret Service’s report “reinforces many of the steps that our districts work on.”

Brown said BCESC School Safety Director, Katharine Piaskowy “works with all of our districts to not only stay in compliance with (Ohio Department of Education) regulations, but also to address the individual needs of districts. In fact, this summer she is coordinating vulnerability assessments for all the districts.”

Edgewood Schools now have armed security officers in all its schools, but its expanded security strategy goes further, said district officials.

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“Edgewood is taking a holistic approach to ensure our students and staff are safe at school (and) this approach aligns with the recommendations from the Secret Service,” said Pam Pratt, spokeswoman for the district.

“Our efforts include the on-going assessment of our physical environment as well as the mental health support needed for our students. Training for all staff and students is also a critical component of our plan,” said Pratt.

“And our district currently has a crisis communication team and a district safety team, which includes local law enforcement and first responders. Last spring, we initiated Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). These behaviors will continue to be reinforced with all our students in the upcoming school year,” she said.

Since 2015, each Ohio school has been required to file a safety plan with the state that “takes into account all threats and hazards for a particular school. The plan must address ways the administrator will address those threats and a protocol for responding to those threats.”

Individual schools take a wide range of approaches to school safety, including use of school resource officers from local police departments, school climate training called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, and in some cases, creating armed response teams that would react in the case of a school attacker.

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