EATON — Eaton Community Schools Board of Education held a public meeting on school safety on Monday, March 26. The meeting featured a presentation from Superintendent Barbara Curry and Eaton Police Division Sergeant Eric Beeghly, followed by response from the board and a period for public participation.
The board responded to questions which had been submitted to them, before opening the floor for public comments. Normally, public comments are restricted to a total of 30 minutes, but the board voted to waive the time limit. However, no questions were to be asked and the board would not respond to any comments made by the public.
Instead, the board intends to meet in executive session prior to its regular meeting on Monday, April 9. During that executive session, the board will discuss comments made during the meeting on Monday, March 26. “We are here to gather input from our school community, as we all share the same concern of school safety,” President Lisa Noble said.
To open, Curry took the stage for her portion of the presentation.
“School safety continues to be a high priority, along with educating our students. All of us here tonight have the same goal, we want our students and staff to be safe at school. This is a topic that is discussed frequently within the school setting. We will be sharing some of the things we have in place for safety, but this presentation will not be all inclusive. We will not be discussing everything, as there are items we want to be confidential for safety reasons,” Curry said.
“School districts are faced with many challenges. As a result, we are continually looking for resources within the community that may be utilized in preparation of and in response to a crisis as needed. A few years ago, ACE Hardware provided safety items for each of our classrooms at cost. The Police Department has also provided financial assistance in purchasing safety items. We also have several agreements with businesses and churches, that will enable us to use their site in the event of an evacuation,” she continued.
“We strive to take a proactive approach to school safety. We have a tip line that is available to report issues that may impact safety or the learning environment. Parents or students can report to this line, 1-866-listen2me or 1-866-547-8362. This tip line is available 24/7, all day every day,” Curry said. “When a tip is made, depending on the report, administrators either receive an email or, if it rises to a higher level, administration receives a phone call. Once we are notified, we begin investigating immediately.
“We have emergency notification available. When I send out a district message, it goes out to 4,707 telephone numbers. We have 937 individuals who have signed up to receive either an email or text. Information is also provided by the website and news media as needed. Even though a statement may be made, written or verbal, and even if it is made not to be taken seriously, threats are always dealt with by administration.”
She added, there have been copycat threats made recently. In response, the school held a middle school student body assembly. It was explained, in great detail, what legal actions may be taken toward a student for threats made. Curry noted, students were listening intently.
She explained other safety measures the school takes. All full-time staff and any other individual who is unsupervised with a student must receive a background check. All visitors must sign in at the office. There are designated hours for each entrance.
With a proactive approach, mental health awareness is essential, according to school officials. There is a counselor available at Hollingsworth East Elementary, William Bruce Elementary, and Eaton Middle School. Eaton High School has two full time counselors. There are two mental health therapists — generally one is assigned to the elementary campus and one to the middle school and high school — but both are available as needed at whatever location needed.
For his part, Sergeant Beeghly focused on security updates the school has made and training the police department continues to take part in, all in effort to make the schools safer for City of Eaton students.
“In 2008, was the first time the department began active killer training. We have been doing that for 10 years. What we do is, we will have a training day when it is just the police officers and we practice tactics. A couple weeks later, we will do our yearly active killer training. This is a great opportunity for our officers to adapt to the scenario and get the most out of the training. We make it a full-scale training and try to make it as realistic as we can,” he said.
“The other thing that is important when we deal with these situations is communication. The Preble County Sheriff’s Department is on MARCS Radios, which almost every emergency service division is going towards. All of our schools have MARCS Radios, so they can communicate with us. Radios are great for us to get on the spot information, when there is an emergency.”
He added, they also participate in many different table top activities, practicing for numerous emergency situations. They perform four a year, where they practice responses to crisis situations, such as school, lunch time, tornado, carbon monoxide, bus, or other situations and locations that might occur. The scenarios are to test the policies and safety protocols to locate areas of improvements.
The school is also working on ALICE Training — how the school reacts to threats in the buildings. This training teaches employees and staff how to react to intruders.
The police department also believes in a proactive response and being active within school walls, trying to discourage activity by being present within each building.
Next, President Noble answered questions community member Mike Halderman had sent to the school’s attorney. She noted, at this meeting, the board will only be addressing the following five questions. Any other topic discussed will be answered at a later date.
She answered, “Question number one: Winton Woods Schools in Cincinnati had a bomb threat yesterday and have already disclosed information to the public, except student names. Our answer to that question is, our One Call system briefly describes the incident or threat. On advice of our attorney, our policy is not to include any other information.”
She continued, “Question number two: Eaton should immediately edit the student handbook and segregate bomb, gun, or knife threats and then the public would know. We keep talking about student rights to privacy, but what about rights of students who continue to attend side-by-side people who exercise criminal activity? Our answer to question number two is, according to policy, we reserve the right to evaluate each case individually, based on the facts.”
“Question number three: ‘What is the plan for a school bus incident? It is only a matter of time before the mentally ill attempt this,’” she read. “Our answer to question number three — we have provided various training to bus drivers in our district. We hope you can appreciate that it is not in our district’s best interest to publish our emergency response plan for school buses.”
“Question number four,” she read. “’How are the parents of these students who make threats held accountable for their kids actions?’ Our answer to question number four — the parents do not attend our district. The district does not have authority to punish the parents.”
“Question number five: Since it is legal to have armed staff, what is the exact reason our school has voted not to do this? Has it ever been discussed in a board meeting, other than three or four years ago when our committee asked them to consider it?” Noble continued. “Our answer to question number five is, the Eaton School Board has discussed the option of arming staff. There is little to no support of taking such action by our current board. Please be assured, providing a safe school environment is important to each one of us.”
The floor was then opened to public comments, with a note each would be restricted to three minutes per individual. However, individuals were allowed to take the floor more than once, after giving others an opportunity to respond.
Halderman was the first to take the microphone. “I’m imagining it is going to be difficult to accomplish anything tonight with your refusal to answer questions,” he said.
Noble responded, the board members would be taking notes and listening, to respond at a later date.
“If Winton Woods High School is able to divulge detailed information, the prepared answer your attorney gave you to read tonight is not an acceptable response. You’re taking a conservative approach, without making any kind of commitment to answering the question,” Halderman said, requesting a “better answer.”
“I commend you, as a board, for having this meeting. As a representative for my family, I am embarrassed at the turn out. I hope that becomes a part of permanent record. We have 2,000 students, which equals to 4,000 parents, if we’re lucky. The turnout tonight is sad.”
Next, community member Brian Duncan thanked the board for having the meeting, but agreed with Halderman it would be difficult to make progress without a proper question and answer forum.
“Maybe someday in the future we can have a Q&A session. My statement is, I don’t have a lot of information as far as to what the protections in the school are. It would be nice to know what securities they have currently. I don’t even know if I could ask you the proper questions. However, I would strongly encourage the board to reconsider the arming of willing, licensed, and trained teachers, which you discussed earlier,” he said.
Halderman took the microphone again. “I did appreciate the overview of what the Eaton Police Department does in regards to safety,” he said. “I don’t think there is any doubt that you would be able to respond after the event has already occurred, but that is my concern. We all know the average length of time these activities have, which is short. Eaton Community Schools has an advantage over other community schools, like National Trail or Preble Shawnee, who are in more rural areas.
“My concern is not what you’ll do what you get here, it is what happens in those two or three minutes.”
His last question for the board was how community members can help in securing safety for the local schools.
Finally, community member Abigail Helsinger took the microphone to share her thoughts.
“I know you can’t answer questions now, but I would be curious to know if the school has researched the use of school resource officers,” Helsinger said. “I certainly appreciate that the officers have a presence at the school, but I was wondering if that has been discussed. I would like to applaud the board for not considering arming teachers.”
Eaton Community Schools Board of Education will be holding an executive session at 4 p.m. on Monday, April 9, prior to the regular session which will be held at 6 p.m. in Hollingsworth East Elementary.
District resident Halderman is planning a countywide town hall meeting to discuss school safety, but a date and time had not yet been decided at press time.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH