BOE Discusses ‘Incident Command,’ School Safety Plan | News, Sports, Jobs | #schoolsaftey

WHEELING — When Ohio County Schools Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones trained to be an educator more than 20 years ago, he never envisioned himself having to use words like “incident command” when focusing on school safety.

“But here we are in 2023, and everybody’s top priority in the county is school safety,” he said. “We can’t get anything done unless people feel safe and feel good about it.”

The Wheeling Police Department is now partnering with Ohio County Schools on school safety, and officers plan in the coming weeks to train school officials on the process of incident command during crisis situations, according to Jones.

There will be discussion of having strategy in place in the event of a lockdown, and predetermining which administrators and staff go where, who talks to media and who talks to parents, he said.

The need for such planning arose last year when a threat forced a lockdown at Wheeling Park High School, and exposed weaknesses in policy.

Jones and officials with Ohio County Schools updated the public Wednesday morning on the measures they’ve taken to strengthen safety within its school facilities.

“We really amped up our school safety a few years ago,” Jones explained. “It has always been a high priority. But after (the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas) – even though there were a lot of other school massacres – that one really set everybody to what was happening and that they weren’t prepared. It really made us take a harder look at school safety.”

He noted the school district began its efforts in 2018 by putting a $42.2 million bond levy before voters, which was later passed by the community. With additional money from the West Virginia Building Authority and federal COVID-19 relief dollars, Ohio County Schools was able to do more than $100 million in property renovations, according to Jones.

And many of the upgrades pertained to safety, he added.

Jones pointed out that every school now has a mantrap at its entrance, which is a small area that a visitor can only access by pressing a buzzer and then being permitted inside. The visitor remains in the mantrap until they are vetted, determined to not be a threat, then permitted access into the main school facility.

Camera systems have been installed or are in the process of being placed in all buildings.

Additionally, more than $1 million has been spent on purchasing two-way radios for every school employee.

“They can report something if they’re in the parking lot,” Jones said. “If they are in the bathroom and they see an emergency, they can hit an emergency button.

“It is an extremely important resource for our people.”

There are also now school safety officers assigned to all buildings, and the plan is to soon have one hired exclusively for each school.

Jones acknowledged he initially didn’t think an officer was needed for every building, but board of education members pushed for him to make that happen.

“The students, staff and community now thank them for that,” he added.

Evacuation plans were evaluated, and all school employees now must wear a badge identifying themselves as being with Ohio County Schools.

National school safety expert Kenneth Trump of Cleveland was retained to do an assessment of Ohio County Schools. He spent a week evaluating every building and interviewing staff and students.

Most of Trump’s report was confidential, but Jones said one thing Trump has advised is that teachers not cover the windows on their doors with construction paper or other items. This is so that school administrators and safety officers can readily see what is happening in the classroom as they walk past.

Ohio County Schools also will no longer being using such terms as “Code Red” when there is a crisis, and will instead use plain language to describe the situation to the public, according to Jones. The change was suggested by Chief Shawn Schwertfeger with the Wheeling Police Department.

Identifying students who are in need of help, and whose issues could lead to a school safety situation, is necessary, explained Nicole Shepherd, behavior specialist with Ohio County Schools.

The school district employs Jill Maloney at WPHS as a mental health specialist, and also contracts with Achieve Behavioral Health to provide counseling in cases that warrant more care.

Jason Frohnapfel is owner of Achieve Behavioral Health. He noted the number of referrals to his office by Ohio County Schools has increased since the COVID pandemic began, and that the number this school year continues to be rising.

“We get a lot of referrals, because a lot of our students are struggling,” he said.

Some parents at Wednesday’s meeting came to discuss a traffic safety issue happening along National Road in front of Triadelphia Middle School and the entrance to Steenrod Elementary School. Cars are driving through the section too fast when there are students present, they said.

Jones suggested small barricades like the ones placed on Edgington Lane could be placed in the busy roadway at the beginning and end of each school day, and he would speak with the building principals.

He said additional meetings focussing on school safety will be scheduled “about every six weeks.”

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