Officials discuss school safety

BOARDMAN – How to prevent tragedies in schools was the topic of discussion Monday among state officials, law enforcement, teachers and school officials.

Attorney General Mike DeWine and state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, joined Mahoning County Educational Service Center Superintendent Ron Iarussi in a school safety roundtable, where various methods of upholding school safety were discussed in depth with area officials and education leaders from Mahoning County.

One recurring theme was training in schools, not only for teachers and administrators, but also to prepare students for potentially dangerous situations.

Recent cuts in school funding were brought up numerous times as factors that prevent schools from updating security equipment and renovating older buildings.

One of the most effective things schools can do involves “training, training, training,” said Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene. “It doesn’t cost that much money to constantly train,” he explained.

Local superintendents discussed successful safety procedures already in place as well as potential ways to improve them.

Austintown Superintendent Vincent Colaluca said their partnership with local law enforcement and having officers on hand during the school day are a big step toward upholding school safety.

“(The children) don’t look at the officer as someone they’re fearful of, but someone they can go to” if they have problems or concerns, Colaluca said. “I think we can get ahead of this and be proactive.”

DeWine said one issue that makes safety a challenge is lack of communication. Even when teachers can identify students as potential threats, where do they go from there? he asked.

“You see the kids that are angry, you see the kids that are bitter, you see the kids that are at risk,” Schiavoni said.

One teacher responded, “If the student hasn’t done anything, there’s nothing the teacher can do,” explaining that one step is to notify the parents, but if the parents aren’t aware or won’t admit their child’s problems, the system breaks down.

The high ratio of students to social workers was another area of concern. Colaluca said Austintown recently hired one to work with students and families, but they probably need four or five.

“It seems that schools are dealing with more and more issues” with today’s children, especially with the explosion of social media outlets online,” Iarussi said.

Schools are making headway with school safety, beginning with the submission of the school safety plans as required by legislation passed in 2007, DeWine said.

Only 25 buildings have yet to submit their plans, DeWine said, but plans from 450 schools are more than three years old and in need of updating.

He also reminded educators about the Ohio Police Officer Training Academy training program designed to prepare people to deal with active shooters. The program focuses on two things, he said: Identifying potential threats and minimalizing loss of life when there is a threat.

Still, he emphasized that the training for police officers, teachers and school administrators has nothing to do with shooting a gun.

Schiavoni said Monday’s discussion was beneficial, and invited officials to a school safety hearing next week in Columbus where they can testify about school safety procedures as well as voice concerns.

“Here in the Mahoning Valley, we’re working very hard to solve this issue. If we can work together, we can continue to push this. There’s no way to prevent (tradedy) from ever happening again. I’m a realist,” Schiavoni said.