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Monroe County schools discuss safety after Florida shooting



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The Monroe County Community School Corporation organizes a school safety discussion at 6:00 p.m. March 5, at Bloomington High School South. The discussion focused on learning about the school corporation's safety protocols and processes in reference to acts of violence.  Tiantian Zhang Buy Photos

Building entry points, mental health resources and emergency protocols were among the topics discussed Monday night during a Monroe County Community School Corporation safety forum put on in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, shooting.

The event featured a panel with school administrators, law enforcement, educators and one student, who discussed current safety procedures and answered questions from the community.

Superintendent Judith DeMuth also offered a clear stance at the forum against recent proposals by some, including President Trump, that schools should arm teachers.

“Our staff members did not get into this profession to shoot students or shoot people,” DeMuth said. “We want teachers to teach kids. We need to have kids who feel they’re as safe as they can be.”

DeMuth said the only armed employee in the district is the school resource officer, James Witmer, who moves between the campuses.

District officials said repeatedly Monday one of the most important ways to keep schools safe is to report anything suspicious or worrisome to administrators, teachers or law enforcement and encourage students to do the same.

“It takes all of us to do this,” Demuth said. “Our best defense is not only our staff but our students.”

Bloomington Police Department Sgt. Lucas Tate, who attended to explain how the schools work with law enforcement, encouraged people to report any and all concerns, no matter how little information an individual has or what time of day it is.

Christopher Ciolli, director of building operations for MCCSC, spoke about the ways the district monitors and improves the physical facilities of the schools.

He said a majority of schools have a two-door front entry that funnels individuals to a front office, where an employee can ask them their reason for visiting before allowing them entry through the second door.

In schools without this feature, Ciolli said the district is looking how to front entrances more secure.

Bloomington High School South does not have a two-door entrance, but Principal Mark Fletcher said limiting the number of unlocked exterior doors is a focus of the school's safety plan.

The school also has four unarmed security guards monitoring the school daily.

Beyond physical safety, discussion turned to mental health support. The district employs counselors at the middle and high school level and social workers at all levels. Rebecca Rose, director of student services, said these people are all licensed mental health professionals.

Social workers and counselors do meet students for individual counseling as needed, but the schools also work closely, Rose said, with community resources for students in need of extra support.

Fletcher said although teachers may be the first ones who notice a student's mental or emotional problems, the teachers generally do not try to solve the problems themselves and instead pass that information along to the people most suited to deal with such issues.

“We’re educators,” Fletcher said. “We’re not trained to handle those type of things as much as our social workers and law enforcement.”

A member of the audience asked if a comprehensive list of mental health resources could be added to the district website, and Rose said the district could create and post such a list.

Another audience member asked about district use of new safety devices, such as door blockers. Ciolli said the district has a process for reviewing such devices and has looked into door blocking devices.

The district decided not to use them after consulting with the fire department and discussing possible negative consequences of device, which stops doors from being opened from the outside.

If a door blocker was used in a classroom with young children, for example, and the adult in the room then became incapacitated, anyone else trying to help probably would not be able to enter the room. 

The blockers are also considered a fire code violation, Ciolli said.

The forum’s topics of conversations went beyond only intruder or shooter concerns, touching on emergency weather protocols, social media, interpersonal relationships and bus safety.

The panel also discussed ways of showing support for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the wake of February’s shooting.

About 75 BHS South students met last week to discuss plans, and although nothing has been finalized, Fletcher said the school community is eager to show support in a unified way.

“We want to show lawmakers and politicians and community members that we have common ideas about what needs to happen,” Fletcher said. 

Another safety forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Bloomington High School North library.

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