Promises to improve safety measures, plans

A promise was made, but no guarantee could be given.

In the shadow of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults at the school, Wapakoneta City Schools Superintendent Keith Horner promised school administrators and board members would continue to work to improve the safety measures and plans at the school, but he said he could not make a guarantee it could not happen here.

“No matter what we do, we can’t offer any guarantees that this particular situation won’t happen in Wapakoneta, Ohio,” Horner told approximately 150 people gathered in the Wapakoneta Performing Arts Center for a meeting to explain school safety measures in place. “It’s happened in malls, movie theaters, schools obviously, churches and every place takes precautions for this type of thing. We can’t offer a guarantee that it won’t happen here.

“In short and in my mind, the best thing that can come out of this is we can get better from this particular situation,” the school superintendent said. “We can feel a little bit more secure, and perhaps take some steps that will help us in the future be more safe and keep our boys and girls more safe.”

He explained that safety is always discussed during administrative meetings and during Board of Education meetings whether it is regarding sidewalks and crosswalks, ice in the parking lot or school shootings.

“I will be the first to tell you that we can get better in just about every area and there are certainly things we can do or that maybe we should do that we need to look at and we will continue to do that in order to improve our situation,” Horner said. “In my mind, this is a great opportunity to get better.”

With police officers, police chiefs, a trooper and the Auglaize County sheriff sitting behind him, Horner said they have vowed to meet on a monthly basis to discuss safety and to coordinate their efforts to improve safety at the schools in the district instead of meeting periodically to discuss an important issue.

Horner discussed some of the safety measures already in place including a single point of entry at the schools, which improved with new construction and renovations. There are cameras at the school and Wapakoneta High School Assistant Principal Scott Minnig is re-evaluating placement of those camera.

Horner shared that all staff members have been trained in regard to a school shooting and other emergencies. If an incident occurs, the school goes into a lock-down mode where teachers lock the doors in an effort to keep the children safe. They also have safety plans at each of the buildings, and those will be re-evaluated.

Some measures they would not reveal so a potential culprit could gain knowledge of their tactics.

Wapakoneta Police Chief Russ Hunlock explained officer Jeff Eisert, who serves as the school resource officer, is in the schools at different times during the day. He is the liaison between the school and students and the police department, but he also monitors the schools at different times on different days.

He also said the Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office provides DARE officer Sam Blank, who teaches about drug awareness but also patrols the halls of schools.

Hunlock spent a moment remembering the lost lives of those in Newtown, Conn. — “they are in our hearts, in our thoughts and prayers.” He then addressed their responsibility as officers to the schools.

“It is our job to try and stop a situation while it is happening or better yet to try and prevent it from happening,” Hunlock said. “Our officers have and are attending training and we work side-by-side with other agencies in the county and we know this is a joint effort and we have to work together in order to resolve situations.”

Hunlock and Horner assured those in attendance they respond to every call and look into every complaint. They stressed the need for parents and students to help them by reporting anything out of the ordinary at school, in conversations or postings on social media.

During a question-and-answer period, parents inquired about bulletproof windows since Adam Lanza gained entry into Sandy Hook Elementary School by breaking a window on a door.

Horner said the cost may be prohibitive but it will be discussed. After the meeting, law enforcement officials said they have to consider the advantages and disadvantages of bulletproof windows since the windows also could provide an escape route.

Parents also discussed arming the teachers with guns or even tasers and teaching children self-defense in physical education class.

Hunlock said he would not recommend bringing a taser to a gun fight.

Earlier in the meeting, Horner said having guns in schools is not permitted and that it would be for the Legislature to decide.

Sheriff Al Solomon, who is not against having former military personnel or retired law enforcement officers walking the school grounds, provided the audience with something to consider by arming teachers.

“If, God forbid, something happens here like happened in Connecticut then it will be a bad day for everybody and when you are talking about arming teachers — and we just discussed this yesterday (Tuesday) and today (Wednesday) at a BSSA (Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association) meeting a lot of the things that are being discussed here,” Solomon said. “We are trained that if we are going to go in and stop the threat.”

He said this would come down to costs and training and even then he would be wary of the outcome.

“When it comes down to it and you put a gun in a teacher’s hand or in anyone’s hand, are they going to be able to do what they need to do when it happens?” Solomon said. “And it’s easy to stand here and say, ‘Yep, I’ll do it.’ And it’s easy to stand in front of a silhouette and say, ‘Yep I’ll do it.’ And everybody has the best intentions when they say that, but can they do it? What happens if they can’t? What happens to that gun? I just want you to consider that.”

Addressing the fact this is more a mental health issue, Horner said he would first hire teachers if he had an additional $50,000, but taking that out of the equation he would hire a mental health counselor. One person argued he would rather see it spent on arming people to monitor the schools or on safety measures.

After the meeting, Horner said school board members and administrators need to address in more detail safety plans for after-school activities, such as a play or musical, and during athletic events.

“We do talk about that and we do recognize there are areas at those events we need to improve on,” Horner said. “We do have auxiliary officers at basketball and football games, but we may need to expand that to the Christmas pageant and the school musical.”