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School security headlines program


July 17, 2013
School officials from Harrison, Crawford and Washington counties talked about safety and security at the annual tri-county Farm Bureau dinner program June 19 at Central Barren United Methodist Church. The topic stemmed from the killings in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Panel member Crawford County Sheriff Tim Wilkinson said no one ever "dreamed of anything like this" back when he was in school in the late 1960s and early '70s.

And while he and other panel members commented that there's no way to provide 100-percent protection, Wilkinson said law enforcement has worked to become more prepared and provide a "better" response time if something should happen.

After missing last year, Katrina Hall returned to serve as moderator for the program.

Other panel members included Jason Sturgeon, who was hired in March as the principal at English Elementary School; Steve Morris, superintendent/junior-senior high school principal at Lanesville Community School Corp.; Dr. Neyland Clark, superintendent of South Harrison Community School Corp.; Greg Hopkins, assistant superintendent and transportation director of East Washington Community School Corp.; and Superintendent Gerald Jackson and Keith Nance from West Washington Community School Corp.

They talked about replacing windows with stronger glass, installing more security cameras and changing exterior doors to ones that will shut better to help keep out intruders.

In addition to fire and tornado drills, students now practice lock-down drills that sometimes involve law enforcement agencies, which work on preparedness, too, including their response times.

Additional security cameras installed at West Washington schools also have helped in bullying situations, Nance said.

Morris, who opposes having armed employees at school, said the real question is how to move forward with keeping students safe without turning school buildings into a fortress. And, without additional state funding, his school board would be faced with choosing between retaining a school safety resource officer or laying off teachers, he said.

"Let's focus on living our lives, not living in fear," Morris said.

South Harrison Community School Corp. added armed police officers to its eight campuses earlier this year. Clark said the officers "operate almost like DARE officers," referring to the drug-awareness resistance education program once used in many fifth-grade classrooms. The officers "know many of the kids, know the families," he said.

After each of these men made comments about their respective school systems, Lance Richards, assistant superintendent/transportation director at North Harrison Community School Corp., and Dr. Mark Eastridge, superintendent of Crawford County Community School Corp., added a few remarks.

Richards, a former teacher at Lanesville before he took the principal position at Morgan Elementary then later the assistant superintendent job at North Harrison schools, said, "not to diminish what happened in Newtown," but there are 100,000 schools in the United States, not counting post-secondary institutions, and there were only two school shootings in 2010.

"Our schools are as safe as they've ever been," he said. "We're taking all the precautions that we can."

Eastridge, who has served on the panel for many of the past Farm Bureau tri-county programs, encouraged those who know of someone who is angry to contact their local law enforcement agency.

"Be our ears and eyes," he said. "Let us be proactive."

Hall commented, "Unless you have a child in school ... the general public doesn't realize ... the level of work school officials do on a daily basis."

She then asked State Sen. Richard Young Jr., D-Milltown, and State Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, to say a few words.

Young, who has not missed any of the 20 programs, said he finds them "extremely educational" and he wishes other counties he represents would have similar forums.

With regard to Senate Bill 1, Young said, "As we had time to work with it ... we realized we needed to let our school corporations know how serious we took this ... "

Davisson echoed Eastridge's urge for people to help identify those who might be capable of doing harm. He added that he had received three phone calls after the deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma stating that every school corporation should have a storm shelter.

Before reading "The Farmers Prayer" ahead of the meal prepared by members of Central Barren United Methodist Church, Washington County Farm Bureau representative Merwyn Fisher strayed from the agenda by having everyone sing "Happy Birthday" to Peter J. Schickel, of Lanesville, who had turned 90 the day before. There also was a birthday cake, decorated with white and purple icing — Lanesville's school colors — to go along with the homemade desserts.

Schickel, who has organized the tri-county programs, announced he won't be coordinating any future programs.

"It's time for a change," he said.

His son, Robert Schickel, who previously served as Farm Bureau's District 10 representative, challenged the group to keep the tri-county program going.

During introductions, Pete Schickel asked for a moment of silence for soldiers and remembered four people who had participated in past panel discussions but have since died: Carl Uesseler, former principal and superintendent of Lanesville Community School Corp.; Eugene Trueblood, former Washington County assessor; Richard Scott, former sheriff of Crawford County; and Dr. Ken Oppel, former teacher and assistant superintendent of North Harrison Community School Corp.

"These people were real public servants on the panels," Schickel said.

Susie Eastridge led everyone in singing the national anthem before the meal and, to conclude the program, "God Bless America."

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