• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Board has far-reaching discussion on school safety

With school safety on the minds of so many after the recent mass shootings at high schools in Kentucky and Florida, Woodford County schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins told board members “keeping our students safe has been, is and will continue to be the top priority of our school district.”

The Woodford County Board of Education asked Hawkins to talk about school safety at its regular meeting on Monday. He was joined by Woodford County High School Principal Rob Akers and Woodford County Middle School Assistant Principal Scott Hundley during a far-reaching discussion about school safety.

“I want you to know that I fully understand the anxiety that exists among students, parents and staff members,” said Hawkins in his opening remarks. “I consider our 4,000 students to be my kids. And one of them actually happens to be my child. And so I completely understand where that anxiety comes from.”

During a discussion with school board members, questions about the role and presence of school resource officers (SROs) were asked.

Woodford County schools currently has two SROs – one at WCHS and another at WCMS. Additional police officers direct school traffic in the mornings.

Also, board member Sherri Springate said the district may want to host a public forum so people in the community can offer their ideas and suggestions to improve school safety.

“To me, there’s nothing more important than ensuring that our facilities, our buildings are safe,” school board Chair Ambrose Wilson IV said, “so that our students and employees can go to (school and) work with a degree of safety, with a degree of comfort that if something does happen there’s a plan to react. There’s somebody there to help.” He suggested that the district may want more police officers (or security guards) in its school buildings. He said other schools have also started checking student backpacks and using metal detector wands to make their buildings safer.

The importance of making sure all exterior doors are closed so they are locked and not propped open was also discussed by board members. WCHS Principal Rob Akers described a locked door – whether it’s an exterior door or a classroom door – as the first line of defense.

He also talked about the value of preventive measures such as social workers, counselors and positive relationships with students.

“You can try to harden any building,” said Akers, “but if you don’t have those relationships with the kids” you are going to have a difficult time making a school safer. He pointed to a recent safe school assessment that showed 100 percent of the students at WCHS say they have an adult in the building that they could go to if they felt the need.

“There’s a lot of value in involving students (in discussions about school safety),” said Springate. WCHS junior Allison Johnson said a lot of students would like to discuss how they can make their schools safer. “We’re all looking for an outlet to have that conversation and to talk with you and share our ideas. We are eager to do that,” she said.

In his presentation to the school board, Hawkins pointed out that every school in the district has a positive behavior and intervention system (PBIS), which focuses on the social and emotional development of students. He said those efforts are a key to having a safe school environment by helping to build stronger student-teacher relationships and a connection to school.

“We need our students to help us in this endeavor (to make their schools safer),” said Hawkins. “We need for them to talk to an adult if they see or hear anything that is alarming or concerning to them.” He said an online anonymous tip line – instituted several years ago – provides an avenue for students to report an incident that may need to be investigated. Also, he said every school in the district has taken steps to address bullying, and employee training helps staff members identify signs that a student may be struggling emotionally or socially.

In recent years, Hawkins said all schools have been equipped with new camera systems and security doors, which require a badge or security code to gain access into a building.

Every school also has a secure entry where visitors must be allowed in as well as emergency plans and drills, which are practiced by students and staff throughout the school year, Hawkins added.

“Another key component to school safety,” he said, “is for our parents to be engaged with their kids. We need to know what they are involved with, who they are involved with (and) their social media presence – and this is extremely key right now because so much of what’s taking place is in the social media world … By doing so, we can better identify any warning signs that may need to be reported to either school officials or other agencies.”

Hawkins said he will meet with Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott, Police Chief James Fugate and Fire Chief Brian Wainscott this week to identify areas where school safety can be improved.

Wilson began Monday’s meeting by asking for a moment of silence to remember the lives of two 15-year-old students who were killed in a mass shooting at Marshall County High School in Benton, Ky., and 14 students and three employees killed at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

He read the names of the lives lost to gun violence and asked those at the meeting to “also remember the many, many victims who were left behind – not only family, but the students and faculty who had to witness the carnage – as they have to deal with it now.”

Students at WCHS are planning to have a 19-minute memorial walkout on Wednesday, March 14 to reflect on the 19 lives lost to school violence at Douglas and Marshall County high schools, school board student-representative Jared Christian said. The WCHS senior said students are working with faculty members on this memorial protest to show their solidarity against school violence.

Drug testing

The board approved the second reading of a policy to implement a random drug testing program for student-athletes, student drivers and students who participate in competitive co-curricular activities beginning next school year.

Wilson, who voted in opposition to a second reading of the random drug testing policy, which passed by a 4 to 1 margin, asked the board to consider a policy that also includes school employees.

“I think that’s an area we need to explore,” said board member Margie Cleveland, but she pointed out that a policy to randomly drug test employees would fall under personnel and involve other legal issues.

“I don’t believe anybody’s opposed to having that conversation, that discussion,” added Hawkins, “but I think the bigger issue that I see in our community is the drug use among young people,” while also acknowledging that illegal drug use does exist in the lives of other people too.

With provisions in the policy that students get counseling if they do test positive for drug use, board Vice Chair Debby Edelen described random testing as “a way to help kids and not punish them.

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