An estimated crowd of 250 people turned out Wednesday for a public safety forum offered by the Hillsboro City Schools where superintendent Tim Davis talked about threats the school district has received this year, how the district has responded to them, and what prevention measures it is exploring to make students as safe as possible when they are at school.
Davis said that the district received reports of four threats in February. He said it was after the fourth threat, when he had the chance to talk with about 100 parents and told them what was happening at the school and how the district was responding to threats, that he decided it would be good to hold a public safety forum that anyone interested could attend.
“To see the reaction on their faces, that they were happy to see what we were doing … that’s why we wanted to to do this,” Davis said.
He said that through the process of responding to threats, the district has learned there are areas it needs to improve as far as student safety is concerned, and that the students and staff need to be better trained on how to respond in the event of a threatening situation.
“I feel our school is safe, but I’m not going to sit up here and tell you it can’t happen,” Davis said. “We take every precaution and your kids and their safety means everything to us.”
The first threat took place Feb. 6 when someone wrote on a bathroom stall saying that they had a gun and would kill.
With help from law enforcement, Davis said, “We searched every locker in the building and didn’t find it anything, so that scared us, to be honest,” thinking that a student could have a gun in their possession in the school.
Davis said every student, six at a time, was pulled out of classrooms and the gym and checked with metal defectors. He said a couple pocket knives were found, but no guns.
The second and third threats both came on Feb. 23. One was a screen shot of a Facebook post about a school shooting that was reposted on a student’s Snapchat and was reported to the school. Another was writing on a bathroom stall about a gun in a locker.
Once again the school took every precaution it could think of, went on lockdown, called law enforcement, and all lockers were searched one by one.
The fourth came via an anonymous phone call with someone saying they were coming to the elementary building after school to shoot it up.
“I can tell you we have not found any guns in the building despite what you hear on Facebook,” Davis said. “I had one parent tell me, ‘You found 14 guns and did not tell anyone.’ We’re going to tell you what we can, when we can, when the situation is safe.”
In response to the threats, Davis said the school gave a Powerpoint presentation to middle school and high school students that addressed lockdown procedures and evacuations, and educated students on responsible Internet and social media use.
He said some other ideas that are being looked into include: training with local emergency responders on proper first aid techniques, eliminating the use of cell phones during the school day, metal detectors at school entrances, arming staff, and adding a second resource officer. The school is already in the process of updating 20 security cameras throughout the buildings. The school is also working with law enforcement to give the staff better training on how to respond to emergency situations, and Davis said that in the future there will be more emergency drills with students.
As far as students communicating with their parents during an emergency or lockdown, Davis said he understands that students are going to text message their parents in those situations. But he said texting can cause problems because students may not be paying attention when they’re being told something they need to know. He also made these points:
• Do not message your parents to pick you up during a drill or emergency situation. Additional traffic impedes emergency personnel from doing their jobs.
• Cell phones are not permitted to be in use during a drill.
• It is important not to spread rumors about the impending situation.
• Parents will be notified by the school when and where to pick students up, if that process is necessary.
The superintendent said students should tell someone if they know something they’re concerned about, and that parents should check their children’s social media sites and have conversations with them about what’s being posted.
He said that parents should also make their students aware of the consequences for making school threats. He said they include: expulsion from school, a police investigation, prosecution, being sent to a juvenile detention center, and having a criminal record.
Numerous school and emergency response personnel were on hand for the meeting. Hillsboro Police Chief Darrin Goudy said parents need to sit down with their children, ask them how they would react in an emergency situation, and go over what options they have.
“They have to train themselves and already have scenarios in mind and have processed a solution,” Goudy said. “We have to allow our children the ability to think on their feet, because if they have not done that, they’re going to freeze.”
There are a lot of things to still work out, Davis said, but the most important thing is the safety of Hillsboro’s students, and it takes the entire community working together to make them as safe as possible.
“We’re all looking at what we can do better because the biggest thing I don’t want is our kids going to school thinking they’re in a prison and having to be searched,” Davis said. “This should be a happy time in their lives and we don’t want them living in fear.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.