WARREN - In light of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that killed 20 students as well as the February shooting in Chardon that killed three, area schools are becoming more proactive about safety.
Austintown Local School District Superintendent Vince Colaluca said they have been working extensively with local police to ensure safety.
"Families are entrusting us with their children every day," and the school does all it can ensure their safety, he said.
Officers are present inside each of the schools, including three at Fitch High School, including one on patrol, one at the front desk and one during lunch. The middle school has a juvenile detective present daily, and an officer rotates among the elementary schools as well, he said.
"I really feel the Austintown schools in particular have done a nice job of working with the police," Colaluca said, explaining that township police Chief Robert Gavalier is always looking at other means to sharpen their skills on lockdowns and other safety procedures. Automatic locks have been in place at the schools for more than six years, and anyone seeking to enter must be buzzed in to the building, he said.
Colaluca said Austintown schools also offer guidance counselors who are trained on crisis management.
To his knowledge, there aren't any Austintown families with a connection to the Connecticut shooting, but if there are, they can reach out to the counselors.
"It's a very unfortunate thing that's been going on in our society," Colaluca said of the shootings. "We definitely address it ... we do all we can to keep intruders out."
Since the start of the school year, the entire staff at Warren City Schools - from bus drivers to custodians and teachers - have gone through training to prevent the loss of lives in the event of a shooter entering a school, Superintendent Michael Notar said.
More lives can be saved by being more proactive as opposed to hiding, he said, explaining that staff members have gone through the Alert, Lockdown, Information, Counter and Evacuation (or A.L.I.C.E.) Instructor Course. The course is hosted by the University of Akron Police Department and provides strategies and techniques designed to enhance the commonly used lockdown procedure.
The Ohio School Resource Officers Association says lockdown is insufficient as a stand-alone defense strategy and that A.L.I.C.E. training increases the odds of survival by promoting simple but effective self-defense strategies.
When using A.L.I.C.E., in addition to shutting off lights and barricading the doors, students are encouraged to grab the nearest object and be prepared to throw it at an impending intruder, Notar explained.
"Research shows that, in a large area like a cafeteria, if 300 kids start throwing stuff and tackling the person, more lives are saved," Notar said.
Cameras also are in place, and staff can get on the intercom and announce the arrival and location of the intruder, giving teachers an opportunity to evacuate children safely instead of waiting inside the school.
Teachers have been sharing their training with students, and after the Christmas break the administration will meet with the teachers again to go over safety procedures, Notar said.
Flags were flown at half-staff in Warren City Schools and will remain so through the week, Notar said. A phone announcement also will be made to parents, expressing sympathy on behalf of Warren to the community in response to the tragedy.
Any parents who have concerns regarding school safety are urged to contact the superintendents.
"We are being more proactive as a school district," with the new procedures, but hopefully we won't need to use them, Notar said.
Attorney General Mike DeWine has urged schools to file safety plans for each of their buildings as required by state law. Despite reminders, 145 schools never submitted their documents, DeWine said.