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Schools hold community meeting on safety

March 14, 2018
J.T. Whitehouse , The Town Crier

Roughly 200 Austintown residents turned out for a community meeting to talk about the safety of students in the schools. The meeting started out with school and police officials giving a history of school safety in the township.

"The Board of Education has been very supportive and have a great collaboration with the township," said Superintendent Vince Colaluca. "We've had a police officer at the high school since the 1980s."

Following Colaluca's brief talk was Austintown Police Chief Bob Gavalier.

"I have been police chief for 12 to 13 years," he said. "Ever since Columbine happened, our tactics have evolved."

He said with every school shooting, new details come out and departments have to adapt or update their own programs. He added it also brings out different vendors offering products to protect schools.

"It was hard for me too keep up with all the changes, so we picked Lt. Tom Collins to serve as liaison."

He said Collins holds safety drills, handles training with school staff, and is able to identify problems and adapt.

Gavalier said the Austintown Police were involved with the design of the new school buildings. He said AIS, AES, and AMS all have a double point of entry into the school building. Fitch, because of it's age had to go with a security desk staffed by officers.

Gavalier said the Austintown campus has eight police officers on duty during the school day. Besides the D.A.R.E. officer, juvenile officer, and two resource officers, there are three additional officers and one mobile officer in a vehicle traveling the campus.

"In the township we have five officers patrolling during the day," Gavalier said. "On the school campus we have eight. We have one of the safest schools in the country."

One a final note, Colaluca again addressed the crowd and said the issue is really about mental health. He said that is where the focus should be.

"We don't want to go down the second amendment road," he said.

Another issue was the disrespect for police officers, which Colaluca said was a sore spot for him.

"In Austintown we still respect our officers," he said. "There is a growing disrespect of police officers in our country that I just can't stand."

He wrapped up his talk by saying the board decided to put officers in each building after Sandy Hook.

"We don't get extra dollars for it," he said. "We've had no new operating funds since 1996. We have a strong budget and don't plan to come to tax payers for a while."

He did say all Ohio school districts could use financial support from the state and Federal government to help with school safety issues.

Following the statements from Gavalier and Colaluca, the meeting was turned over to questions from the crowd.

One question asked about using door stops. Collins said when there is a situation in a room, the police will use a battering ram. A door with a door stop would take minutes to get into, and those minutes would be precious time when lives are in the balance.

There was a question about the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center where many Austintown students attend. There was a concern about that schools safety. Assistant Superintendent Jeremy Batchelor said all visitors to MCCTC must go through the front door now and there is a Canfield Police Officer on duty there.

"They are responding just like we are," he said.

Another question involved safety at recess. Colaluca said the teachers and aides on the playground have communication devices and are on guard when the kids are outside. Also, the gates are closed to prevent vehicles from driving between AIS and AES.

He continued to say that children need the recess time and it is part of the wellness plan. The children who have recess tend to learn better in the classroom.

On the question of arming teachers, Collins said teachers get into the profession to be mentors and nurturers. Police are trained in dealing with human life and making fast decisions. He said a gun can be powerful and one needs to understand that if they shoot at a bad guy, the bullet could travel through him and hit a child standing behind him.

"There were times I came close [to that scenario]," Collins said. "Through the grace of God I didn't have to shoot."

There were several other questions dealing with procedures and equipment, and the final question was "what can parents do to help?"

"Talking at family dinners are important," Colaluca said. "Many things are headed off when a child speaks up after seeing or hearing something."

In closing Colaluca said anyone who could not attend the meeting, but had a question, should submit it via the school website. He said all questions would be answered.



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