By Sue Botos
Rocky River parent Maureen Kishna has one question for the school board and administrators: “What can we do to protect our kids?”
Kishna posed that question at a recent board meeting, comparing the security system at Sandy Hook Elementary School, on the day of the mass shooting, to safety measures in the Rocky River district. “All the safety measures (they had) in place, it was the same as ours,” she said, referring to locked doors and intercom systems.
A social worker who deals with emotionally disturbed children in an outside district, Kisha urged the board to take the initiative and upgrade school safety. “I know this will happen again. I don’t want to wait on national solutions,” she stated, adding that the Sandy Hook massacre will “not be a one-time thing.”
During her often emotional appeal to the board, Kishna gave several examples of heightened security measures from other districts such as Stow, Warren and Frontier, where she found that police have keys to school buildings and access to security cameras. “If these small districts can do it, so can we,” Kishna stated.
She added that unpredictable walk-throughs of school buildings by police would be a further deterrent to anyone considering a crime.
“We do a lot, and the police department does have keys to the buildings and they can see the (security) cameras,” district Superintendent Michael Shoaf commented.
In a letter to parents after the Sandy Hook shootings, Shoaf stated that all entrances to each school building in the district are secure. Goldwood Primary and Kensington Intermediate schools use a camera-buzzer combination, while the middle school has a passive security entrance. Rocky River High School has a staffed security entrance.
A major part of the recent renovation projects at Goldwood, Kensington and the high school was the creation of secure office and visitor check-in areas.
Shoaf added that routine safety inspections are conducted by police Chief Kelly Stillman and that school resource officer (SRO) Mike Bernhardt is at the high school on a daily basis.
“All of our staff is trained in confrontation. We have active shooter training for administrators and we meet with the chief (Stillman) monthly,” Shoaf stated, adding that lockdown and evacuation drills are practiced, and classroom doors are locked from the inside daily.
Assistant Superintendent Liz Anderson credited Shoaf with facilitating the relationship between the schools and the police department. “In the five years that he has been here, there has been a night and day change in how we communicate with the police,” she stated.
Board members agreed with Kishna about the need for school security to be a fluid process, and Jay Milano stated that Bernhardt was a positive influence for students. However, he expressed concern over increased police presence in the schools. “We do have to be careful about instilling fear in our children,” he said.
Board member Jean Rounds pointed out that starting in kindergarten, children are used to seeing officers in the schools due to the D.A.R.E. program and programs dealing with stranger safety.
Shoaf added that communication was the key to any safety plan. “Don’t assume we know,” he stated.
The Safe School Helpline accepts anonymous information and can be reached at 1-800-418-6421, ext. 359, or at www.safeschoolhelpline.com. Connect 5, an e-mail and emergency information system, is available at www.rrcs.org/Connect5.aspx. Bernhardt can be reached at 440-356-6810 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.