TPS considers changing emergency crisis response planWritten by John P. McCartney | | firstname.lastname@example.org
False TV reports that a student had brought a gun to Raymer Elementary School on Feb. 15 panicked many East Toledoans, leading parents to pull more than 160 students from classes that Friday morning.
Toledo Public School (TPS) Board of Education members and administrators agree the incident highlights the need for TPS to address safety issues.
Sobecki said she asked that a safety agenda item be added to TPS’s Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) Building Committee.
Sobecki said the committee will keep safety and security “a standing item to keep board members abreast” of issues that need to be addressed.
“I want to keep it on the agenda,” Sobecki said. “We should have safety on an agenda, and we don’t currently have that on any of our committees.”
At January’s board meeting, Sobecki encouraged fellow board members to make either Superintendent Jerome Pecko or Chief Business Manager James Gant aware of any safety and security concerns board members had, so that when the two administrators met with City of Toledo fire and police chiefs in early February to discuss TPS’s emergency procedures, they could include “all that information we’ve been thinking about.”
Gant said when he and Pecko met with Police Chief Derrick Diggs and Fire Chief Luis Santiago, “We talked about our process and procedures and made sure they were comfortable with them. We wanted to make sure that our communication was good … to see if they had anything they would like to add to the discussion in terms of how we could be more proactive in what we’re doing.”
Gant said a major concern the four men discussed was whether TPS’s policy, where all school building doors are locked and no one is allowed to leave or enter the building in an emergency, was the best course of action.
“We talked about how we handle active shooters and whether the lockdown procedure was an efficient method of doing that, or whether the program ALICE [Alert–Lockdown–Inform-Counter-Evacuate] would be a direction the district would like to move into,” Gant said. “Let me explain what ALICE is by example. Right now, if we have an active shooter and they get into the classroom, what we teach our kids to do, and it’s what most districts have done probably forever, is to find a location, to get down and to hide.”
A TPS elementary school teacher who asked her name not be published confirmed what Gant said.
“Fire drills are once a month, but there are no prescribed number of times [active shooter drills] have to be done,” she said. “We do one every fall, and they do that K-12. We practice with the kids. There’s a prescribed script that’s read, and every school has the same script.”
Gant said recent research indicates that the “get-down-and-hide” approach is not necessarily the best strategy.
“We want folks to be more active in the process, so we actively look for ways to escape,” Gant said. “We become active in the way we try to distract the shooter so we can eliminate any collateral damages.
“So maybe we start throwing things at the shooter. Some districts have had golf balls in buckets in the corner of every room, that type of thing, to be more active in stopping the shooter.”
Gant said ALICE is a program the district is only considering and that it will not be presented to the board for discussion or a vote Feb. 26.
“It’s something we would have to develop,” Gant said. “Part of the thought process is to get more folks involved in the training; get folks trained and make sure they’re comfortable with it. And then we would roll it out, along with the policy that goes along with it.”
Scope of safety
At January’s meeting, board member Larry Sykes encouraged Pecko and his cabinet to broaden the scope of safety and security experts they consulted to include the Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
“If one of our schools goes into lockdown [because of an active shooter], I’m sure the FBI, the ATF and the rest of them potentially could come in our school,” Sykes said. “If it doesn’t happen, great. But if it does happen, we will know how to handle it, when to call them in and when not to. With hostage situations you have to have your best. And that is the FBI and the ATF.”
Sykes pointed to the fact that the Newtown, Conn., shooting Dec. 14 was the 31st school shooting in the U.S. since the Columbine High School massacre of April 20, 1999.
“From all those, we have learned something,” Sykes said. “You have FBI profilers. You have people telling you how to watch out, how to look at stuff, what to be aware of. And that goes beyond your local police, fire and sheriff departments.
Sykes and Sobecki said before TPS would change the lockdown policy, it would seek input from taxpayers.
“Any time we change policies, we go out to the citizens,” Sykes said. “It’s good to have public input from people who have a vested interest, and that’s parents who have their children in our schools.”
Sobecki said that if TPS switched from the current lockdown policy to ALICE, it would schedule meetings to explain the changes to the public.
“There would be a time and a place to do that, but we would have to first take care of it internally,” she said. “We would have to identify the program, whether it’s ALICE or something else, what we’re going to do and make sure our top-notch professionals are trained in the new program because it will be a different philosophy.
“And after you do that, you go site by site to explain the procedures we would have for ALICE versus lockdown. But a public hearing isn’t going to the public and asking ‘Do you think it’s OK if we do ALICE or do you want something else?’
“First, we would have to educate the community about what ALICE is. And then we would take their questions to help them understand.”
The next regular board meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 26:
Pecko will present four cabinet members — Romules Durant and Brian Murphy, assistant superintendents of TPS’s two K-12 learning communities; James Gault, chief academic officer; and Cheryl Spieldenner, chief human resources officer — to the board for three-year contract renewals.
The Human Resources Committee will take the cost of two background checks to the full board without a recommendation since committee members Cecilia Adams and Bob Vasquez do not agree on a course of action.
Adams predicted at the committee meeting that the board will vote 3-2 to require employees to pay for the state-mandated FBI background check and that the district will pay for the TPS-required Ohio background check, with Brenda Hill, Sobecki and Vasquez voting “yes” and Adams and Sykes voting “no.”
Treasurer Matthew Cleland said the FBI background check would cost TPS $68,880. The Ohio background checks would cost $63,140.
The Feb. 28 board meeting, to begin at 5 p.m., will focus on the board’s options for hiring a superintendent to replace Pecko, who is leaving when his contract expires July 31.