School security among topics at townhall meet

STEUBENVILLE — The LaBelle Neighbors Who Care held a townhall meeting Thursday night to discuss school security and education issues and wound up learning much about the state of the American family.

The event, held at Eastern Gateway Community College, featured school superintendents Maureen Taggart from Toronto City Schools, T.C. Chappelear of Indian Creek, Buckeye Local Assistant Superintendent Scott Celestin, Steubenville City Schools Youth Coordinator Angelita Forte and Rose Raveaux, director of counseling for Coleman Professional Services.

The school representatives discussed apps that allow students to report bullying and threats and things they witness anonymously, efforts to build relationships with students and adults and law enforcement, educational programs and mental health services. All discussed active shooter drill training and lockdown drills and preparedness.

The underlying tone was that today’s schools aren’t those of a generation ago, and today’s students face threats online and in their daily lives.

Celestin showed the FN 303 Less Lethal Launcher rifle that fires stun or pepper spray pellets. At least five educators in each Buckeye school is trained to use the device in the event of an active shooter situation, and the devices are stored in each school in thumbprint-only access safes. Because of the rural area of the district lying beyond the reach of most paid police departments, and, in some cases, beyond cell service, Buckeye has had to adapt differently to the potential of threats.

Celestin said, “The philosophy at Buckeye is we believe not if it’s going to happen, but when it is going to happen.” He said there is easy access to guns in many homes in the district where family traditions of hunting are common. The district has obtained first aid buckets for all classrooms and trained staff in first aid.

Celestin noted that when he started in education 31 years ago, “We weren’t talking about that. When I went to school in 1969, we weren’t worried about safety. I ran all over LaBelle all day and came home when the streetlights came on. It’s a shame for kids, what children go through nowadays.”

The troubled home life is not just an urban issue, either.

“I work with kids who do not know if mom or dad will be home or if they will get dinner. We provide free dinners for kids in the district and free weekend meals to take food home. We know the seven hours they’re in school are the safest seven hours they’re going to have,” he said.

Chappelear said the soft side of security is getting people to get beyond the stigma of seeking mental health services and designing new schools with a welcoming environment despite the need for greater security.

Forte said for Steubenville City Schools, security starts by building relationships with students, knowing what is going on to try the best to keep what’s happening in the streets out of the schools.

Taggart said having ways for students to report what they see or hear anonymously is important.

“What we found after the Parkland (Fla.) shooting this year is that students can have a difficult time to report behavior that might be questionable. They’re just not willing to come forward and talk to an adult about those kinds of situations,” she said. Toronto not only uses the Stop It app, which is used in some other area districts, but also has an anonymous tip line, programs to reinforce and incentivize positive behavior and ways to monitor student activity on the Internet.

All spoke of the involvement of mental health professionals within their districts.

Raveaux said, “Most people have an exposure to some kind of traumatic event in general. When children grow up in situations when that’s the norm, it all affects the child’s emotional development or how they look at the world around them.”

She said it is more common now for families to face mental health or substance abuse issues than not, and children are tech savvy and have ways to harass one another in ways previous generations never dreamed possible.

“Teachers are now trying their best to support children with ADHD or autism and kids seeing counselors and doctors and making sure they receive counseling and medication. Now, it’s teachers who are counselors and teachers who are pseudo-parents. It is teachers who are basically doing every job you can think of to help our children,” she said.

Raveaux said some educators had resistance to the need to do more.

“Those times have passed. Teachers are doing God’s work on Earth. They don’t just educate on math and science, but on self-care, on what the world should look like, because kids don’t have that in their homes,” she said. “Children don’t have someone at home teaching them how to be a good citizen. In their homes, survival is the key word.”