Poll: Parents' confidence in school safety increases nationally

Aug. 19--BUTLER COUNTY -- More than a year-and-a-half after 20 elementary students and six teachers were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., parents are more secure in their child's safety, according to Gallup's annual Work and Education poll.

The poll indicates 27 percent of parents in the United States say they fear for their child's safety at school, which is down from 33 percent -- the percentage of parents who feared for their child's safety after the tragic shooting in Newtown. It stayed at that level for a year, according to Gallup.

Although it wasn't a response to the Sandy Hook shooting, some Butler County school districts have invested several thousands to millions of dollars to secure their school buildings during the past two years.

Lakota Local Schools are investing millions to upgrade entrances at its 22 school buildings and have increased the number of local law enforcement officers in the district's buildings.

"You can never guarantee perfect security, but you can take steps to boost and improve what you have," said Randy Oppenheimer, Lakota Local spokesman. "We are spending a lot of money and a lot of attention to ensuring everybody in our schools are safe."

With the local law enforcement officers in the buildings, they obviously will help deter from a school shooting, which is the "ultimate concern," school officials say, but they also help with the everyday challenges, such as bullying, thefts and general security.

"I think the parents, and not just parents but community residents in general, appreciate the steps that we're taking to try to ensure the safety of everybody in the schools here," Oppenheimer said.

Hamilton City Schools have invested $42,275 to contract with IDentiphoto, a Cleveland-area firm to provide its software to track visitors while in the district's 14 school buildings.

The Gallup poll, which was conducted from Aug. 7-10, showed parents feared most for their children's safety -- 55 percent -- in 1999 after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado. Fear waned down to 26 percent in 2001, but spiked to 45 percent after the 2001 Santana High School shooting in California.

Fears waned again until 2006 when the Amish schoolhouse shooting in Pennsylvania occurred, and the pattern repeated just before a killing spree in homes and businesses in 2009 in Alabama.

In the months before Sandy Hook, only 25 percent of parents feared for their child's safety.

Ross Local Schools Superintendent Greg Young said his district has renovated the four school buildings and installed new electronic door latches, which lock down the school from the outside and force visitors to go to the office when entering the building. They've also installed new video cameras and employed the district's first school resource officer -- whose position is funded equally by the district and Ross Twp. Police Department.

While he can't speak for all parents, Young said a survey shows that parents do feel their children are in a safe environment while at school.

"But certainly I think Sandy Hook made people know that (school safety) is also an elementary issue, not just a high school issue," Young said.

Young said a big part of having a safe environment is to ensure the mental welfare of a student, which is part of the reason why the funding of a school resource officer was included in the district's budget.

"The real key to us is to create an environment where the students feel valued, and if we had students where we had concerns from a mental health standpoint, we would be able to get them the counseling they would need," Young said. "That's the most important part of this situation."

Middletown City Schools Superintendent Sam Ison said the district continues to "balance the needs of a 'secure school' with the need for promoting a 'welcoming customer service school.'"

"We strive to reassure parents, students, staff and school visitors that school safety remains our top priority," he said.

In addition to well-trained school resource officers, Ison said:

--principals and other administrators have received training on planning, communication procedures and staff awareness;

--principals, administrators and parents were offered A.L.I.C.E. training (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate);

--school business manager George Long and the district's school resource officers have reviewed building plans, met with school staff to process and make appropriate changes/modifications;

--schools continue to hold emergency procedure drills, including intruder procedures; and

--the district communicates to parents regarding school safety.

Long said, like every other school in the county, installing emergency radios that communicate directly with the dispatch centers was important. The district is also installing "new secure entrances" to all of the buildings at the school over the next few months, he said.

Middletown High School Principal Carmela Cotter said her school has implemented "a range of initiatives" under the leadership of the school resource officer.

"We operate regular school-wide drills implementing a variety of scenarios, which demand staff and students to brainstorm and discuss possible responses," she said. "We have also made a concerted effort to expediently recognize and refer troubled students for counseling."

Copyright 2014 - Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio

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