CAMDEN — School safety is the first priority for districts around the nation following the recent shooting, when an armed gunman stormed a school in Florida and left 17 dead and many injured. This is a discussion that is affecting all schools, even the ones in Preble County.
The Preble Shawnee Local Schools Board of Education held its first meeting since the shooting on Thursday, Feb. 22. The public participation portion of the meeting brought teachers, parents, and community members in front of the board to discuss what safety measures should be taken to secure Preble Shawnee Local Schools in the future. Community members are worried following a string of bullying, lack of secured buildings, and a sense of isolation due to the rural nature of the district.
Jaron Sackenheim, West Elkton Physical Education Teacher, said, “In light of the school shootings recently, a couple teachers and I have gotten together and prepared a statement. Just an opening statement, there are going to be a lot of different opinions on this subject talked about tonight, and though some might disagree, I know we all have student safety at heart. I want everyone to keep that in mind.”
He explained he was not able to get in contact of Preble County Sheriff Mike Simpson, but was able to talk to the Butler County Sheriff’s Department. That department is leading a charge to get CCW permits and education for interested teachers. He also talked about the “state of safety” in the current Preble Shawnee Local School District.
“I have looked at a variety of different things: limited security cameras, doors not working or locking all the times, a lack of internal locks, and lack of screenings for those who come in the building. Parents are seen walking the schools constantly. There are no School Resource Officers (SRO), like many other schools around us. There is a lack of AC for many teachers, so we cannot keep the doors and windows closed,” he said.
“There is a lack of communication within the schools. Many of us do not have a direct line of communication with the office, other than with an intercom which is loud and not discreet. Many schools have a wired phone that is in every classroom, which we do not have in every classroom. There needs to be a direct line of communication within our school and with local law enforcement. I have no cell phone signal at West Elkton, I don’t know about any of the other schools, but it is really bad and if you have to contact someone in an emergency it is not going to happen.”
He listed many other safety concerns that he had and then informed the board he had a list of interested teacher volunteers who would be willing to seek additional training and be armed to protect the school and their students in the case of an emergency.
He said, “There are many teachers at our schools who are willing to go above and beyond to protect our students.”
Camden and West Elkton Music Instructor Cody McPherson added, “Efforts to change legislation might have an influence on gun violence in schools in years from now, but they are not doing anything to address short term immediate threats. We must act now, aside from lobbying for changes to laws to secure our schools. Our district is very rural, as you know, with some schools many miles from police. While we would like to think we are safe, our buildings are dated and not secured.
“On top of that, Madison Schools, only 15 minutes from us, has state of the art buildings and still saw the tragedy of a school shooting. The dangers of this are real. I shudder every time I drive up to the school and see the “Gun Free” sign in front, it makes me sick to my stomach to think that law abiding citizens are not the only ones seeing that sign. As a teacher in this district, I support the ideas spelled out by Mr. Sackenheim to have an armed response team of teachers in each of our schools.”
He added, not all teachers would ever be required to carry a gun — the team would consist of volunteers with extensive screenings and training, beyond a CCW class. He claimed the armed response teams would have no effect on the atmosphere of the school, since the teachers would be volunteers. Members could even be anonymous. He further explained many of these potential volunteers would already have training through the military.
McPherson himself is a veteran and said he would “be eager to put these skills to use to protect our students at Preble Shawnee.” He added, this idea has support on social media and throughout the schools.
Not only do they have a list of interested teachers, but they have also talked to many teachers who do not want to be armed, but support the idea of volunteer teachers being armed.
Next, Preble Shawnee Local Education Association (PSLEA) President Kim Willoughby shared her thoughts on the recent shooting and how to protect the district.
“Arming teachers is a knee jerk reaction that personally, I find insulting and full of potential problems, hidden costs, and unknown liabilities. There are thousands of other alternative measures that can be taken to protect our students that will not turn our educated professional teachers into make-shift security guards. We are not a cheap alternative to providing school districts with resources and plans to make our schools safe,” she said.
”To those that are calling to arm teachers I say arm us with keys to our own buildings, so that all doors can stay locked at all times. Arm us with classroom doors that don’t have to be locked from the outside with a key in the case of an emergency. Arm us with ladders so that we can utilize our ALICE training to evacuate students if possible, even from second and third floor classrooms. Arm us with facilities that don’t require windows to be wide open due to lack of climate control. Arm us with effective ways for teachers and staff to communicate during an emergency. Arm us with a plan to secure our buildings with professional, trained security. Arm us with additional mental health resources to stop bullying, and help struggling students before they become a statistic.”
She further added, “it is not the job of teachers to provide armed protection for our schools” and that teachers need to be able to focus on teaching, since they already wear many other hats.
“The PSLEA certainly supports the District’s goal of increasing the safety and security for students, teachers, and buildings in the District to reduce the risk of a tragedy occurring in the Preble Shawnee Local Schools. The PSLEA follows suit with the OEA and NEA to support having School Resource Officers in all Preble Shawnee schools,” she said. “The PSLEA believes that these and other similarly trained and certified individuals are the best line of defense in the event of an active shooter in the school buildings. Arming teachers and staff is not the solution. It is our job to teach.”
Next, a Preble Shawnee mother and Twin Valley South teacher spoke to the board. She explained that her son, who is within Preble Shawnee’s school district, has been bullied extensively and while the teachers have done all they can “within their training,” there has yet to be a resolution and the mother is simply waiting for the next incident to happen. She presented a plan to the board to address the bullying situation in the schools, explaining she not only wants the victim to get help, but also the bully, who might be using their actions as a cry for help.
“I present a positive plan of action, an idea that I hope many will try to help me out in getting this established in the school,” she said. “There is a system that is on the Public School Works that is for bullying reporting. There is anonymous reporting and behavior management. It is a really good program, but it is very expensive. I looked at other programs and there are a few. We need a system that is clear cut, a behavior action, something in place that will do replacement behaviors for the person who is bullying to show them that it is not okay. We need to help them get better and protect the kid who is being bullied.”
She added, teachers need additional training and that the school desperately needs a system to report bullying, in order for the situation to be taken care of.
“I spoke with the Sheriff today, he has been gone for the last two days. Obviously, he would be a part of any decision we would make. Any decision we would make would have to be approved and then we would send it to the State for approval. Everything should be on the table for a discussion. The ultimate goal is the safe for everybody and that is to have a safer learning environment. If there are things in here that are easier and can be accomplished without modifying the safety plan then we will look at that immediately, but having a meeting about the larger issue is something we will do,” Superintendent Matt Bishop said.
“I think that is something all of the school districts will be discussing in the future.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH