Stow schools superintendent: Approach to school security has changed forever

'Heightened police presence' will be maintained as officials collaborate on updating safety plans

by Jeremy Nobile | Reporter Published:

Stow -- In light of the tragic events that occurred Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school, city and safety officials from both Stow and Munroe Falls are collaborating to re-evaluate the approach to school security.

"The unimaginable happened. The unthinkable happened. And we're going to do everything in our power to make sure that doesn't happen in Stow-Munroe Falls Schools," said schools Superintendent Dr. Russ Jones. "We'll do whatever it takes because our kids' safety, our faculty's and staff's safety is our No. 1 primary concern, and we'll do everything within our means to preserve their safety."

"This really has changed the paradigm of school safety and what communities all across this country are looking at doing and what seems to be reasonable and necessary in terms of security," said Stow Mayor Sara Drew. "It's sort of like September 11 in the sense that it's a watershed event that probably will forever change the landscape of how we approach these kind of issues."

Drew referenced the past spring's shootings at Chardon High School.

"It's not beyond the realm of comprehension that something like this could happen in the city of Stow," said Drew. "But everyone is equally invested and committed to making sure we take ever measure possible to ensure that something like what happened in Newtown, Conn. doesn't happen in Stow."

The Short-Term Response

After learning what transpired in Connecticut Dec. 14, Jones said school, city and safety officials began establishing a plan to "heighten" security in the district's nine school buildings that weekend.

"Making sure children are safe is the big thing," said Stow Police Chief Louis Dirker. "What we're doing right now until we come up with a more permanent plan is assigning officers to schools as best we can on an off-duty basis."

Without releasing too many details for security reasons, Jones explained that officers were either physically stationed at school buildings or patrolled campuses all last week. The schools are picking up the tab right now.

"We can't divulge too much of our safety plan," said Jones, "but there will be a heavy police presence on all our campuses for the remainder of the year."

Because the school is hiring off-duty officers, Dirker noted, the normal level of police patrolling the cities of Stow and Munroe Falls is not affected.

"The community should feel safe that we have our regular patrols that are ongoing, as well as additional officers in the schools," said Drew. "We haven't been diverting resources from the community at large to focus on the schools -- we're actually adding manpower to that."

Jones said the exact same approach to security will be in place when students return from winter break in January and throughout the school year until a permanent solution is reached and implemented for the 2013-14 school year.

"This isn't a knee-jerk reaction," said Munroe Falls Police Chief Richard Meyers. "We're all looking at a long-term security approach and a balanced approach by looking at staffing, procedures, the environment ... We're looking at several different kinds of options."

Throughout the school holiday break, officials in both cities will be meeting on how to enhance security further in the short term.

"We are going to meet next week and kind of walk through a checklist of any kind of improvements that we can make to our current safety plans," said Jones. "We have safety plans in every building, practice drills and strong awareness of what should happen in case of emergencies."

"We're going to provide the best security we can to the students, the staff, and the parents in those facilities," said Munroe Falls Mayor Frank Larson, "and we're going to have several discussions about how to do that."

Jones said he lauds the efforts of the mayors and police in both Stow and Munroe Falls for cooperating so quickly to help the school district address its security concerns.

"It is heartwarming for me to know that when America is facing a challenge, the fine people of both these communities step up to the plate and make what needs done happen," he said.

Email: jnobile@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400, ext. 4179

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