Field schools adopting security measures for student, staff safety

District focusing on limiting public access, training students and staff

By Dave O'Brien | staff writer Published:

Members of the Field community -- elected officials, police officers, businesspeople, school officials and teachers -- are working together to take charge of the safety and security of the 2,400 children who attend school in the district.

Field, which includes the townships of Brimfield and Suffield, is focusing on increasing security and helping increase the potential for survival of anyone caught in the nightmare situation of a shooting at one of the district's five schools. The death of 26 students and staff at a Connecticut elementary school on Dec. 14, 2012, was the driving force behind the changes, officials said.

Brimfield and Suffield township trustees, the Field Board of Education and the Brimfield Police Department are cooperating so Brimfield police can hire a second, full-time, armed school resource officer to patrol the school campuses in Brimfield and Suffield.

The school campuses themselves -- Brimfield and Suffield elementary schools, Field Middle School, Field High School and the Falcon Academy of Creative Arts -- also will be altered in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to deter or block threats, officials said.

Police Presence

Superintendent Beth Coleman and building principals are in daily contact with Brimfield Police Chief David Oliver and his staff, and the schools have had a full-time school resource officer for at least the past four years. Brimfield and Suffield township trustees and the board of education are in discussions to share the cost of a second, full-time school resource officer who would be present at both Suffield Elementary School and the schools in Brimfield.

Initial discussions put the cost at $60,000, to be shared equally between the school district and both townships.

Brimfield police Sgt. David Knarr, who served as the department's school resource officer for four years and is a member of the executive board of the Ohio School Resource Officers Association, said the close relationships built between staff, students and their school resource officer are important.

"Teachers and staff notice things," such as when a student is upset, depressed or acting strangely, he said.

Physical Barriers

Screening school visitors and limiting public access will be accomplished using cameras, locked doors and photo identification.

Surveillance cameras and intercoms have been installed at the entrances to all schools thanks to a "generous anonymous donor," according to Coleman. Panic buttons in various locations at the schools, wired directly to a police dispatch center, will be installed in the near future.

Concrete and rebar bollards, meant to prevent a vehicle from crashing through school entrance doors, will be poured and installed with the help of a local business, Brimfield Township Trustee Mike Kostensky told the board of education.

Police also are looking at prices for bulletproof doors for all classrooms, which, at a cost of $20,000 per school in a district already facing a budget crisis, may prove cost-prohibitive for the time being, officials said.

The ALICE Program

Brimfield police, along with an elementary school teacher who has attended ALICE training, are urging the district to adopt the program to supplement the district's current security precautions.

Knarr, current Brimfield school resource officer Kelly Sonagere and Field elementary school teacher Jason Scherer recently completed training on the ALICE program, which stands for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and/or Evacuate." They hope to train staff and students on steps to ensure their survival in an emergency, the trio told the Field Board of Education at a recent meeting. Kent, Ravenna, Crestwood and Rootstown schools already have adopted the program.

The current "lockdown" strategy, which involves shutting down the schools, locking students and staff inside and preventing public access, will remain an option for police, Knarr said. ALICE simply provides for "different response actions if something else happens," Scherer said.

ALICE training does not include teaching students and staff to put themselves in harms' way, and police "are not training our students to fight the gunman," Knarr said.

Classroom layouts will be rearranged to let students and staff to barricade the doors more easily prior to evacuating the building through windows or emergency exits, he said.

Scherer said part of the training will include teaching staff and students the "right way" to break a window to create a makeshift exit and make for a safe, pre-determined "rally point."

Used correctly, Scherer said, a chair can turn a window into an emergency exit.

Scherer said police, teachers, students and their schools must learn to adapt. The bad guys, he said, have learned from nearly 300 fatal mass shooting incidents in the United States from 1966 to 2010 how potential victims react and how police respond.

ALICE aims to ensure the survival of as many innocent people as possible, Scherer said. The more students and staff trained under the program, the better, he said.

"That's all (ALICE) is looking to do. You can't put a price tag on that," Scherer said. "This isn't going to save everyone, but I believe in my heart of hearts it's going to save more."

Follow Dave O'Brien on Twitter at @RCCrimeWatch

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1128 or dobrien@recordpub.com

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