As officials and the public raise concerns about school safety and security issues in light of the most recent mass shooting at a Florida high school, Warren County’s school superintendents took a different approach: they asked high school students for their thoughts and suggestions on the issue.
About 50 students from Carlisle, Franklin, Springboro, Waynesville, Lebanon, Kings, Little Miami and the Warren County Career Center attended the school safety forum hosted by the Warren County Educational Resource Center in Lebanon last week. Mason City Schools did not participate in the forum.
Also in attendance were school principals, county officials, law enforcement representatives and administrators as well as state Rep. Scott Lipps, state Sen. Steve Wilson, and Kimberly Nagel, executive director of the Center for P-20 Safety and Security for the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
Cox Media Group Ohio exclusively covered the private meeting among students, school and public officials.
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County schools Superintendent Tom Isaacs moderated the forum. Prior to the event, Isaacs said, “This event is intended to provide an opportunity for students to share their concerns and ideas about school safety, it is not intended to be an event for adults to tell the students what we are doing about school safety. The focus is a forum for students, not for adults.”
Isaacs told the students that the public officials in attendance truly cared about their safety adding,“the last thing anyone wants in Warren County is a school tragedy.”
Each school’s students spoke with thoughtful, articulate comments and suggestions during their presentations that were respectful, even when they disagreed.
Kings High School senior Katie Waissbluth said her classmates believe feeling safe in school is “a human right.” She said many students fear that their friends, teachers or themselves could become the next victims.
Springboro High School junior Riley Weisman said, “kids should worry more about their classes and exams and not if a person behind them has a gun and are fearing they won’t get home that night.”
A Springboro eighth-grader in attendance shared a story about a 9-year-old boy she babysits who wanted to get rid of his tennis shoes that light up and get a new pair of shoes so he could run away from a potential shooter.
Students were also mixed on the idea of arming teachers.
Each high school was given some time to share their ideas and ask questions. Some of those suggestions included:
- Placing a state-paid school resource officer in every high school
- Increases in state funding for more mental health and social services resources into the schools
- Multi-cultural and diversity education to help cultivate more humanity
- Adding courses on moral and ethical reasoning
- Boosting security at school entrances with cameras, metal detectors, ID card readers .
- Including students in the same realistic and situational ALICE training that teachers and staff receive
- Adding self-defense course as an option to physical education
- Establishing a safebox/lockbox with a weapon that a handful of staff can use if an armed intruder were in the building
- Allowing teachers who are willing, trained and who have passed a psychological evaluationto carry a concealed weapon
- Sponsoring additional student clubs that would interest all students
- Developing peer to peer programs to increase inclusion and show more kindness among students.
- School officials increasing communication to students and parents about threats made or other safety and security issues as well as taking all threats seriously
- Students taking lockdowns and lockdown drills seriously
- School districts identifying what families have firearms in their homes
- Mental health screenings for new students
- Creating office space for patrol officers at schools where they can stop in, do paperwork and be a backup for the school resource officers
At the end of the session, Warren County Sheriff Larry Sims apologized to the students, saying “we should have engaged you in this conversation years ago.”
“We know this is a complex issue,” he said. “This type of discussion will go a long way.”
County Commissioner David Young said the discussion was his “proudest moment” as an elected official. He encouraged the students to reach out to their fellow classmates and for the legislators to act.
“We’re not perfect,” he said. “It’s good we’re having this conversation.”
County Prosecutor David Fornshell said he shared the students’ concerns and noted that two years ago his office took threats very seriously and started making arrests immediately. He asked the students what he needed to do to get all students to take this issue seriously. Fornshell also said he’s willing to talk at any high school any time.
Juvenile/Probate Judge Joseph Kirby said juveniles who make threats are being taken into custody at the Juvenile Detention Center. Kirby said the court is using polygraph tests to determine if they were serious when making a threat. Of the seven threats this year, he said three juveniles had been determined as not being serious.
Nagel said she heard some new ideas after listening to the students. She also encouraged the students to let authorities know if they hear something threatening their school.
Wilson reminded the students that people care about their safety and there is much being done about it at the Statehouse. He said the students suggesting that the culture in schools be improved was an idea he had not heard before.
Lipps noted legislation about bullying is in the works. He reminded the students about the SAFER tip line, in which all Warren County districts are participating. In addition to reassuring the students he would carry their message to Columbus, Lipps passed out his cell phone number and said he would be available to visit their schools.