Police Chief Calls on Community to Help Make Cardinal Schools Safe
Sunday, March 03, 2013
Cardinal Schools’ first community meeting in January about security revolved around what needs to be done to make the schools in Middlefield safer.
The second meeting, last Wednesday — the one-year anniversary of the Chardon High School shooting that left three students dead and three injured — took the process a step closer to its goal.
Security Plans in Place
After asking for a moment of silence for the Chardon victims and their families, Cardinal High School Principal Jim Howard told the crowd of about 50 all the schools have updated security plans in place and progress is being made on establishing new regulations, and labeling doors and windows on the outside of the three Middlefield buildings.
That project has included pulling up the plans of each building and renumbering the high school classrooms.
“Our numbering system is crazy,” Howard said.
In case of an intruder alert or other emergency, law enforcement needs to be able to quickly identify locations from inside and outside, he said.
Middlefield Police Chief Arnie Stanko, who is organizing the security project, said there needs to be more community interest for the effort to succeed.
“We need to get everyone involved to make this plan work,” he said.
Besides Chardon Schools Board of Education members, Mayor Ben Garlich and village council members, Middlefield Fire Department and the Middlefield Chamber of Commerce were all represented on the stage at the middle school.
Stanko urged those present to get more of their friends and neighbors involved in the process to ward off attacks on the district’s schools like the one that led to the tragedy in Chardon.
“This is a very important issue. Many don’t believe it can happen here. It can,” Stanko said.
Poor Turn Out
Despite the announcement of the meeting via fliers, robo-calls and the new village electronic sign, at least half of last Wednesday’s crowd was made up of public officials.
“I’m concerned about the lack of concern,” Stanko said, adding the project to make the students in school safe is a monumental undertaking and it really needs community support to defend the buildings against violent intruders.
“(They have) a different set of rules, a different mindset,” he said. “We need to become more proactive. The more groups we have working together, the stronger we become.”
There is plenty of work to do, the chief said.
Besides the school buildings, the buses and bus-stop areas need to be made secure and the in-school, anti-bullying program needs strengthened as well, Stanko said.
Better Communication Needed
More communication needs to be encouraged among parents, students and faculty, perhaps including a volunteer program for adult hall monitors and drills to prepare students to respond appropriately in case of intruders, the chief said.
A newsletter urging parents to reach out when they sense something is going on with their kids might avert a crisis, Stanko said.
Bus drivers and teachers need to be more alert, since they know their students enough to notice behavior changes.
A security firm visited the schools with administrators and recommended the addition of cameras, crisis buttons, exterior horns and strobe lights at the middle and elementary schools, he said.
While there are cameras at the main entrances, they don’t record, so they should be replaced, Stanko said.
The total investment for the upgrade would be just over $73,000, he said.
New Doorknobs, a Priority
One immediate issue needs to be addressed, doorknobs, Stanko said.
“The classroom door locks really have me concerned,” he said, adding the only way a teacher can lock the door is to stand outside the room and use the key, potentially putting him or herself in the line of fire.
Fire Chief Bill Reid said he believes the fire code will be satisfied with a button-lock mechanism on the inside knob so the door can be pulled shut and locked from inside.
Superintendent Paul Yocum, who retired formally Thursday, said that kind of doorknob was about $90 a year ago.
Another good defense is having a school resource officer patrolling the schools, Stanko said.
Not only is an SRO available in a crisis, he or she could help avert a variety of dangerous situations by befriending the student population and being proactive in defusing problems before they become violent.
The annual cost of an SRO is about $75,000, Stanko said.
Matthew Galemmo, superintendent of the Geauga County Educational Service Center, said SROs on campus have proven to be very effective, thought the grant money to support those positions has dried up.
But the cameras, panic buttons and doorknobs need to be installed as soon as possible, Stanko said.
Next Step: Funding
“We’ve got to get the money, somehow. If we don’t, shame on us,” he said, urging those gathered to set a timeline to have the goals accomplished.
“We need a target date. Otherwise, we are just spinning our wheels,” Stanko said.
After much discussion about possible methods of financing the security measures, Cardinal Treasurer Merry Lou Knuckles and Chamber of Commerce President Kathy McClure agreed to spearhead the funding effort.
Knuckles said the money from the casinos was about $27,000 this half year.
Another payment is due in about six months and it would be a place to start, but the amount of the casino income is unpredictable, she said.
Others in the group recommended community fundraising programs and approaching local business and industry for additional funding.
Knuckles also said the school could help minimize the bullying problem by working with parents to talk to their children about it.