Austintown hosts school safety summit - News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Austintown hosts school safety summit

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Nearly a month since that deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed, school safety remains top of mind for a lot of parents. 

In Austintown, school leaders held a school safety summit to answer any questions and make sure the community understands that school safety is their number one priority.

"We have one of the safest schools in the country," said Austintown Police Chief Bob Gavalier.

The hour and a half session was led by Superintendent Vince Colaluca who wanted to ease parents fear.  "When you bring your children to us, we act as your parents to them. We are not going to let anything happen to them," said Colaluca.

Close to 200 people attended the safety summit to learn about the school districts plans, processes, and protocols.

"No question about it, the Austintown School Board and administration really care about your kids and we're doing whatever we can to keep your kids safe," Colaluca said.

Colaluca said the key is having eight police officers patrolling the campus every day and he says the partnership with the police department and township is unlike any other in the area, let alone the state.

"Our district has been able to have the foresight and have the management of your tax dollars that you give us. Thank you. We've been able to provide this service that a lot of other districts can't provide," Colaluca said.

Questions during the summit ranged from security to information. One parent asked if they could do a better job of communicating information during a lockdown.

"Giving out information sometimes can cause problems. We are very transparent, but when it's all said and done, we'll give you as much information as possible. But at the time things are going on, very difficult to get information out," said Colaluca.

The question about arming teachers with guns was also posed. 

"The 2nd Amendment, we aren't even going down that road. That's something for individual families. Our board put the resources to put trained officers in buildings, not our teachers. that are there to teach kids," said Colaluca.

Lt. Tom Collins, who is in charge of Austintown Schools security, also weighed in.  "Every morning during roll call, I asses my officers and make sure they are ready for the day. If you empower teachers to carry a firearm, who is going to evaluate them? We are talking about opening a huge pandora's box," said Lt. Collins.

When the question was brought up about extra precautions at recess, Colaluca emphasized that educators cannot let fear keep them from moving forward.  "I think we have to be very proactive, we have to continue our training, but I don't know if we want to stop doing the things we do."

Colaluca said he wants to find ways to continue to provide resources and help students address issues such as mental health.

"Students, if they see something, say something. If a child is at home, texting or talking or feeling emotionally down and gives that trigger to a friend, we need to know because we can't intervene after the fact," said Colaluca. "The first line of defense starts the first day of school. We have a program called PBIS (Positive Behaviors and Intervention Support). It teaches students the proper way to do things. Our guidance counselors are great, we have two social workers and also partner with Alta Care."

Other topics included metal detectors, clear book bags, and bolo sticks. 

Colaluca said the safety committee meets regularly and works to make sure they are maintaining the best practices. 

One question was asked about the role parents can play in helping maintain school safety. 

"It's important to know the maturity level of you child. Be involved in your child's life. Talk every day. If you hear something or see something, say something," Colaluca said.

Colaluca also announced they are changing terminology from "soft lockdown" to "hallway restriction." He says the words soft lockdown caused too much confusion for parents last week. He says during hallway restriction, classes will go on as usual while they investigate a possible threat. He says there is no need for parents to pick up their kids. 

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