MARIETTA - Bulletproof glass, holding areas, non-lethal weapons and arming security guards and teachers with guns were among the ideas for improving school security discussed at Monday's Marietta City Board of Education meeting.
Board members, district and building administrators, two parents and two grandparents continued a community conversation that began at December's meeting in response to last month's slaying of 20 young students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"Security guards (are), I think, a must. I don't think it's an option anymore," said Angie Binegar, 39, the parent of a Phillips Elementary student. "Just the perception of knowing; these people (school shooters) are cowards. They're not going to want to face opposition."
Marietta City Board of Education member Wendy Myers listens to suggestions for improving school safety during Monday’s board of education meeting. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
Board President Greg Gault said the idea is worth considering.
Superintendent Harry Fleming noted the district has a permanent improvement levy that could be used for physical improvements to district buildings, but not for hiring.
"To hire security guards is personnel; we don't have money for that," he said.
Binegar said she would support a levy for costs associated with safety measures and urged the board to place one on the upcoming primary ballot. Gault said that would not be possible because there was no scope of work or cost established.
If people wouldn't support a levy to make safety improvements, Binegar said, arming teachers should be considered.
"Probably a year ago I would have said, 'No way,'" board member Bill Hutchinson said. "Now I'd probably say, 'let's think about this.'"
The idea worried Warren Township resident Tom Reebel, 59, whose granddaughter attends Phillips.
"That just scares the heck out of me, to put lethal force in somebody's hands," he said.
Reebel said anyone who would carry a gun in a school setting should have at least as much training as a police officer, a position with which board member Don Atkins agreed.
"My feeling is if we're going to do this, concealed carry training is not enough," he said. "You should possibly even go through the OPOTA (Ohio Police Officer Training Academy) training."
Gault said he'd heard some people suggest giving school personnel non-lethal weapons such as Tasers. Binegar pointed out some devices can launch pepper spray from dozens of feet away.
Binegar's husband Steve, 42, said pepper spray is a good idea that could be placed in schools quickly.
"It will stop him (a shooter) if you hit him with it," he said.
Establishing a "holding area" where people could go without actually entering the school was another concept Angie Binegar asked the board to consider. Facilities, transportation and safety director Dave Davis noted that could also save on utility bills since it would act like an airlock.
Angie Binegar also suggested installing bulletproof glass on entrances. Davis said that would not be a quick fix because that type of glass is thicker than what is already in place.
"The entranceways would have to be totally redone," he said.
After suggestions from Reebel's wife, Linda Fleming, the superintendent's sister, and Binegar, Davis said he could get more information about attaching bars to existing doors.
Superintendent Fleming told those in attendance that school officials had already emphasized to employees the importance of making sure they know who is at a door before buzzing someone in and not allowing people to enter through other locations.
Putnam Elementary Principal Jona Hall said she'd recently had Marietta Police Officer Rod Hupp at her school to go over A.L.I.C.E. training with the staff. The program - which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate - encourages multiple approaches to adapt to circumstances and get students to safety.
Phillips Principal Joe Finley said the district needs to also provide specific instructions to employees so they know how to carry out the A.L.I.C.E. principles at each building.
"It needs to go further than just the A.L.I.C.E. training," he said.
Hall said her school has a specific "rally point" after an evacuation but noted that in a shooting situation, it might make more sense for certain groups to go to other locations. One teacher said she worked in a district in another state that established "safe houses" in the neighborhood where students and staff could take refuge.
The board referred the suggestions to the district's safety committee. That group, whose members include Atkins, Davis and a rotating roster of principals and staff members, meets next at 1 p.m. Feb. 14.
Monday's meeting was the board's annual organizational session. Prior to the safety discussion, Gault and board member Wendy Myers were re-elected to their positions of president and vice president, respectively.