POMEROY — “Keeping our children safe is our top priority.”
That was the overall message from Meigs County Sheriff Keith Wood, Superintendents Tony Deem, Scot Gheen and Steve Ohlinger and University of Rio Grande representatives Tom Sutton, Rebecca Long and Chief Scott Borden on Thursday morning as they discussed school safety.
Wood and the three superintendents met on Wednesday to discuss how to improve upon safety measures already in place, including improvement in training and the possibility of adding an additional officer.
The second-term sheriff said that when he first decided to run for the position his goal was to have School Resource Officers (SROs) in each of the schools. Having launched the SRO program in the county, Wood said there is still more that can and should be done.
With looking at the possibility of another officer, the sheriff’s office is also looking at the potential of switching to the DARE program for the SROs. DARE provides a more structured program with an established curriculum for the officers to teach in specific grade levels.
The sheriff commended the schools for being proactive with trainings having been completed and safety plans put in place previously, allowing for everyone to build on what is in place rather than starting from square one.
Meigs Local recently conducted an ALICE Training with instructor Bill Francis who is the middle school principal at Eastern. Eastern Local has also completed the ALICE Training. Southern has also conducted previous trainings.
One upcoming training for law enforcement is being planned at the University of Rio Grande in May, Chief Scott Borden told the group. The training is to include multiple agencies and is to take place at the University’s main campus. Wood said he plans to have officers take part in the training.
The superintendents and the sheriff all emphasized the importance of “See Something, Say Something.” Deem added that it is not just about what the students see on social media, but could be something out of place at the school, a car parked in an odd location or someone they don’t recognize being around the area. Students are asked to tell any trusted adult who can then report the information to law enforcement.
Wood said that law enforcement will go to the fullest extent to track down the origination of posts to social media or other potential threats, working with state and federal agencies to do so if needed.
Wood, Gheen, Ohlinger and Deem emphasized the importance of reporting items, particularly social media posts, to the authorities rather than making comments on the posts or spreading the information.
“Think before you react,” cautioned the Sheriff. He added that authorities will not tolerate those who continue to stir things up and induce panic.
“Call and we can investigate,” said Wood.
“Be socially responsible,” added Deem.
Meigs Local hosted a presentation in late February on avoiding social media land mines, putting on the presentation for students, as well as hosting a parent night.
Gheen said the district is looking into the possibility of a link on the website or an app where tips and information can be reported.
On campus, mental health is at the forefront, noted Long.
Long explained that the University has a threat assessment team in place to access potential risks and threats on campus, working to get the students the help they may need which can turn a potential negative into a positive.
Looking at the broader picture, Deem said the recent shooting and safety threats in other parts of the state and country have made the local schools review their policies and procedures to see what can be done differently in their respective buildings. He added that those changes could be physical or could be a change in the mindset of those in the schools.
Each of the schools has a MARCS radio and panic button which is connected to the other schools and the sheriff’s office. Those radios are now tested daily.
The schools are also equipped with door locks with key pad entry. At each building the secretary is alerted to a person at the door and questions the individual before allowing them to enter the building.
One of the key items to come out of the meeting was the establishment of the Meigs County School Safety Council.
The Council will be comprised of more than a dozen individuals, including representatives from the three school districts, Rio Grande, Carleton School, a mental health representative, law enforcement agencies from around the county, student representation, EMA and first responders, among others.
The group will be exploring all options as to what can be done to improve upon the plans already in place.
School officials will meet monthly with the sheriff to continue the focus on school safety, while the newly created Meigs County School Safety Council will meet six times per year.
The Council will be looking at what can be implemented now, as well as things that can be put in place for the start of the 2018-19 school year.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.