Public school superintendents weigh best options to maintain school safety

05/02/2018 02:29 PM

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS – Providing one-on-one human contact for every student is one of the key elements to addressing the school violence issues which have plagued many schools around the country, including Marshall County High School on January 23, according to state public school administrators.

Superintendents from Covington Independent, Erlanger-Elsmere Independent and Boone County, along with Northern Kentucky University Police Chief John Gaffin, took part in a panel discussion on school safety which was hosted by NKU’s College of Education and Human Services.

Kathlyn Burkhardt, superintendent of the Erlanger-Elsmere, believes in a multi-pronged approach that educates everyone so they can feel empowered by what they know and what they can do.

“We expect that our teachers and our administrators know their students,” Burkhardt said. “Build relationships with students, so that they are able to help us when they see a student in crisis, or is in need. We also have multi-disciplinary teams which do threat assessments as well, so we’re able to assess students for self-harm or possible harm to others, and that requires us to really get to know our students and sit down and talk to them.”

Covington Independent’s Alvin Garrison says there is a lot of collaboration between the Northern Kentucky districts when it comes to school safety policies and all agree that focusing on prevention is the biggest key to addressing the issue.

“We try to keep students from feeling isolated or alienated, try to prevent the bullying as much as we can because relationships, they are the key,” Garrison said. “If students feel that they have nice nurturing relationships, a lot of times, if they’re having trouble at home or at school, they’ll reach out to an adult as well as if they hear from another student having some troubles at school or at home. So you have to have that trust.”

Some proponents favor the idea of arming some teachers as an extra layer of protection.

Boone County Superintendent Randy Poe acknowledges that while some favor that practice and some don’t, intermediate steps would have to be taken and a number of new policies and laws would have to be implemented before any such procedure could be put into place.

“If you’re going to arm teachers, then have to realize that there are also laws, and you have to realize if you’re willing to do that, you’re going to have to realize that nobody’s going to give you the authority to act with deadly force, no matter what situation it is,” Poe said. “If this is an area that our country is moving in and towards, then our federal laws and our state laws need to line up. We should not have an individual teacher wondering whether they’re going to be convicted or not, because you don’t have immunity in that situation that you do in your teacher situation any longer.”

Gaffin, says that college campuses differ from public school campuses in the fact that they are open, free moving, public spaces.

His biggest focus is for his department to provide an immediate response to a potential emergency situation, which makes training a top priority.

“We’re currently kind of partnering with the FBI to see if we can bring some hands-on training here where we’re actually going a little step further and engage our neighboring departments, the folks that are going to be here if we were to have an incident where we really needed to respond to this type of stuff,” Gaffin said.

Garrison concludes that one of the biggest challenges for school officials today is to provide a safe environment while still trying to maintain and open and inviting atmosphere for students, parents and staff.

“The school district should be the center of the community, so we want our parents, our families to feel that they can come to the school at any time, be it to learn, to exercise, to use the internet,” Garrison said. “So, it’s balancing, keeping that inviting, welcoming culture versus putting the layers in place so that people will also feel safe.”

The idea for the forum came about because of survey results from an introduction to education class in which close to 50 students shared that their biggest concern in becoming a teacher was student safety and gun violence in schools.

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