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Akron-area districts react to Friday school massacre with tighter security

By Doug Livingston
Beacon Journal education writer

Police — some inside buildings, others outside — met many area students on the first day of school since Friday’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary.

“It was a tough day for everyone in education. Really tough,” said Sheryl Sheatzley, communications manager for Hudson schools. Sheatzley, like most school officials, spent the day briefing parents and teachers on safety, security and stress.

Many districts issued emails, texts or phone calls to parents over the weekend. The messages offered counseling and updated the public on each district’s commitment to student safety.

Some districts and police departments canvassed Facebook to get their messages out.

A post ensuring a presence throughout the week on the Medina Police Department’s Facebook page received about 1,400 likes.

Wadsworth police posted that “patrol officers will be very visible this week in/around the schools, daycare centers and preschools.”

Some districts, like Cuyahoga Falls, have taken additional precautions.

“Our buildings have been pretty accessible in the past,” Superintendent Todd Nichols said.

Entry to each building now has been funneled to a single, monitored doorway.

Nichols also has advised teachers to shut and lock doors during class. Students are being denied hall passes as part of the “safe and secure” protocol. Administrators are considering the purchase of additional surveillance equipment.

Cuyahoga Falls police staff each building with an officer.

The added police presence, in most districts, is in addition to school resource officers, who in Akron’s buildings monitor hallways in middle and high schools.

Superintendents emphasized that safety levels, though temporarily heightened, have been and will continue to be adequate. Administrators also voiced a commitment to improve safety where possible.

“When something like this happens, everyone steps back and re-evaluates,” Norton Superintendent David Dunn said. “Are we doing everything we can?”

Norton administrators will meet with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office today to review lockdown procedures, discuss training options for teachers and explore overall safety.

The sheriff’s office pulled deputies from the jail and staffed schools in the area Friday. Those officers have since returned to their normal duties.

Knowing that parents would still have concerns about safety Monday, Portage County Sheriff David Doak reassigned a couple of detectives and asked road patrol deputies to drive through school parking lots and go into schools as frequently as possible this week to boost their visibility in the rural districts.

The idea was to reassure parents, faculty and students that authorities were watching, he said. Deputies will continue to do that until at least the Christmas break.

“The big question is: How are we going to keep that up?” Doak said. “It’s a money issue. It’s not just this agency. It’s everywhere.”

Waterloo Superintendent Andrew Hill sent a letter to parents Monday letting them know about the increased presence of sheriff’s deputies. He also offered counseling for any children having a difficult time because of the tragedy.

“While our safety plans are continually reviewed and updated accordingly, we feel we have a solid safety system,” Hill wrote. “Sadly, we are reminded in situations like Connecticut, that no safety plan is ever 100 percent effective, but it is our belief that we are situated well to respond if we ever need to.”

Attorney General Mike DeWine on Monday said he will offer additional training through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA), which helps educators and administrators identify and deal with potential threats.

“Following the tragic events in Chardon last February, we have increased the availability of our school safety trainings,” DeWine wrote in the news release.

Most districts, like Akron, have developed a relationship with the local law enforcement. Through the Akron Police Department’s “Know Your Schools” program, officers are assigned to certain buildings and become acclimated with those settings and educators.

Most administrators said they had not experienced increased absenteeism. They also reported little concern among elementary students. While parents have avoided telling younger children about Friday’s massacre, high school students and teachers are coping with the tragedy.

“I think the adults struggle with it a great deal more,” said Christina Dinklocker, superintendent of Mogadore schools. “It’s so very real when you’re in your room looking at your students.”

Dinklocker spent the morning visiting the elementary school. She put faith in the district’s safety plan, which administrators, faculty and transportation officials updated over the summer.

“Thank God, we feel as prepared as any district can possibly be,” she said.

Hundreds of students attended concerts and banquets at Mogadore over the weekend. The Christmas-themed assemblies were held in somber remembrance as parents, students and teachers joined together to sing Silent Night.

Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com.



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