Parents of St. Charles School students gathered Wednesday, Feb. 20 at the school for an informative evening as the school's Home and School Association hosted Safety Night.
According to information provided by Suzie Reardon of St. Charles Home and School, the event was organized by the board in an effort to offer parents the opportunity to review terminology about school emergency procedures, learn what the school has been doing to address safety and emergency needs, and finally, how they can best support the school's efforts. Parents were also able to ask questions throughout the evening.
Speakers included Sgt. Mike Hughes of the Boardman Police Department and Brian Barber, a Boardman Township firefighter, who offered insight as both safety experts and parents of students within the school. In addition, special guest Todd Worth, a member of the FBI as well as the Boardman community, spoke as a first responder at the Chardon High School shooting last February.
Opening the forum, Jennifer Gray, president of St. Charles Home and School stated the school's need and current progress on what is an always evolving plan, one in which a myriad of possible disasters is addressed.
Sharing the statistics of a Secret Service study on school violence, Gray stated that between December 1974 and May 2000, there have been 37 school shooting incidents.
Elaborating on those, the statistics showed that the acts were rarely impulsive, but rather planned, that in two thirds, shooters obtained guns from their own home or the home of a relative. He also noted that 47 percent of the incidents lasted 15 minutes or less; 25 percent took five minutes, and that a shocking 93 percent of the attackers were found to have behaved in a way that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.
Following Gray's introduction, School Principal Mary Welsh updated parents on the decision to rework the crisis management plan and the numerous meetings and discussions that have taken place as changes are made to ensure the safety of their children.
According to Welsh, teachers are now in possession of keys as all school doors are kept locked, the school's aftercare will now include a monitor and buzzer system, cameras are being updated, and the school is cracking down on identifying visitors.
"We just want to make sure we know every single person who in this building and why," she said.
Calling St. Charles "ahead of the curve on crisis planning," Hughes said that prior to the Sandy Hook, Conn., shootings, many believed that such incidents couldn't happen in their communities, and building upon that, Barber said, "Unfortunately, when a crisis occurs, that's what brings sweeping change."
A member of the Boardman community for 15 years, Agent Worth said he settled in the area because he felt his family would be safe here in Boardman. A father of two, he said it is crushing to go from having to discuss "stranger danger" to explaining the images on TV of a school shooting to a first-grader.
Worth lauded the efforts of the school in conjunction with Boardman police, calling the department way ahead of its time and leading the way on school safety.
Attendees left the event with informative handouts on what principals, teachers, parents and students can do to stop school violence, as well as a clear picture on exactly what St. Charles School is doing to protect their most valuable commodity.
Said Welsh on the school's efforts to beef up security while maintaining the feeling of community the school conveys, "We are trying to find a balance between safety and welcome, between security and joy."