LEETONIA - While Leetonia students enjoyed a day off, their teachers, administrators and support staff members learned ways to keep them safe from intruders, identify drugs and recognize neglect or abuse.
"The safety of our students is our number one priority - it's always on our minds," Superintendent Rob Mehno said.
The day began with a violent intruder training known as A.L.I.C.E.,which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.
Salem Police Det. Brad Davis, a certified instructor for the program, talked about those five steps and options to consider, such as barricading a room instead of just locking the door. The personnel then practiced some scenarios, with Davis and Salem Township Constable Dan Valentine playing the bad guys.
In the afternoon, the elementary staff heard all about child abuse and neglect from Columbiana County Children Services Administrator Rachel Ketterman, who told them how to recognize signs of neglect or abuse, who's responsible for reporting it and how the agency will respond.
The high school staff learned drug awareness from Lt. Brian McLaughlin of the county Sheriff's Office, who also serves as director of the county Drug Task Force. He described what drugs are available in the area, what they look like and the damage they can do.When it comes to drugs in the county, he said, "you name it, we have it."
The staff first heard an overview about A.L.I.C.E. during the August in-service session with Leetonia Police Chief John Soldano and Valentine. Mehno said the overall response was to explore the program further, so they enlisted the help of Davis as a certified trainer and applied for a waiver day through the state so the training could be done on a day when students weren't in school.
The four-hour training session included
85 participants, including teachers, custodians, cooks, secretaries, county staff members, and visitors from United Local who wanted to see what the program was about.
Mehno described the A.L.I.C.E. training as part of a progression of actions the district has taken to improve safety. Some of those other actions have included the installation of keyless entry doors, upgrading five of the numerous security cameras on the K-12 campus, adding another nine cameras and upgrading hardware, installing panic buttons and sending two staff members to F.A.S.T.E.R. training through the Buckeye Firearms Organization. F.A.S.T.E.R. stands for Faculty and Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response.
The district also received a grant for communications, giving the school the ability to access the police radio band in case of a major incident at the school, with direct access to police. Front door attendants are in place during the day to monitor traffic in and out of the building, with visitors buzzed in.
The district's safety committee decided to train the staff in A.L.I.C.E. and will review whether to implement the plan and train students where age-appropriate.
"We are constantly re-evaluating our safety plan," Mehno said.
Davis said the group paid attention and had a lot of good questions. During the practice scenarios, they barricaded rooms and they attacked the attackers played by Davis and Valentine with pingpong balls and tennis balls.
"Hopefully what I taught them, it's common sense, but not actually common knowledge," Davis said, adding the training "empowered them to realize that they can survive a violent threat or active threat."
"The actual simulations were extremely beneficial," Mehno said.
Both he and Soldano noted how districts can learn from past events such as Sandy Hook, Columbine and what happened in nearby Chardon.
Soldano said the days of staff and students just hiding when there's an active shooter in the building are over. He said he won't be waiting for a SWAT team to show up, either, he'll be making entry right away with the goal of stopping the intruder. If he waits, there could end up being more casualties. He said he's in favor of A.L.I.C.E. and supports it.
Elementary Principal Ed Ridgeway admitted he was a little hesitant at first, but said "what I liked, instead of just being sitting ducks, he showed us things we can do to be more proactive."
Staff members have options instead of just sitting there waiting and worrying.
"Better to do something rather than do nothing at all," Ridgeway said.
A.L.I.C.E. starts with Alert, which means to sound the alarm about what's happening, call the police and use any means possible to communicate with others in the building, including the public address system.
Lockdown refers to locking the doors and giving students and staff time to recognize the threat and escape if at all possible. If the threat is on one side of the building, students and staff on the other side of the building don't need to stay if they can safely exit.
Inform means to keep teachers, staff members, students and police up to date on the location of the threat.
Counter means to interrupt the physical act of shooting by any means possible, including throwing items at the shooter, which should be used as a last resort for survival. Evacuate means to get as many people away from the situation as possible, as fast as possible.
Soldano works closely with Mehno and school personnel and had high praise for the many improvements made to ensure safety and security. Mehno said the chief is constantly visible at the school, stressing the importance of that presence.