Othello community meeting for school security set for March 12

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OTHELLO — Othello School District patrons are being invited to a community meeting to discuss school security within the district. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 12, at a location to be announced.

The panel will include the Othello School Board, district officials, law enforcement and possibly mental health professionals.

The community meeting is the result of a lengthy discussion at the regular board meeting Monday, prompted by a recent shooting in Broward County, Florida, which left 17 students and teachers dead. Board chair Rob Simmons said whatever happens on a national or state level, “I just think there are things that we can look at on a local level” to enhance school security.

The district has a security policy and security plans, and security is part of the job of the district’s risk manager. But Simmons said he wanted to review the policy and talk to district patrons, to get their ideas and opinions.

Board member Tony Ashton called it a “refresh,” reviewing what’s already on the books. “For me as a board member, it starts with the board reaching back out to the community.”

“What does our community think of what we have now?” said board member Mike Garza. “I’d like to know where the community is at.”

Garza suggested a survey, and board member Jenn Stevenson suggested a community forum along with that, using the information from that to help determine any revisions to the existing policies. Ashton said it should be made clear the school board determines policy, but that implementing the policy is up to district officials.

The school board has two students as representatives, Kaiden Quigley from Othello High School and Isabel Pruneda from Desert Oasis High School. Both said they liked the idea of a community forum. “The more public knowledge, the better,” Isabel said.

Both also expressed concern about existing procedures. Quigley said that from her observations, some of the current practices actually could increase the danger in certain circumstances.

The high school was the target of a possible threat last year, and OHS was locked down for three hours. Quigley said the procedure for getting information out to parents was, in her opinion, inadequate. Othello Police Chief Phil Schenck agreed with her. “We weren’t communicating very well to our parents.”

As a result the police department joined the Nixle alert system, which the OPD uses to notify subscribers in emergencies.

The district has a school resource officer; in answer to a question from Stevenson, Schenck said the SRO is a commissioned officer whose job is to spend most of the time at school. The district and school split the cost of that position, Schenck said. The district also has three security officers. Schenck said those are school employees and have different training.

Isabel asked about the role of security guards. Assistant superintendent Pete Perez said security officers are there for truancy cases, but they’re on campus for more than that.

Schenck said the law enforcement response to violent situations, and the training for them, has changed over the years. Othello teachers, administrators and aides have been trained in evasion, barricade and self-defense techniques – “run, hide, fight,” Schenck said – and police officers in Adams and Grant counties have had active shooter training.

One more possibility has been discussed. “We don’t know if we should be training our students to do the same thing. Some districts have made that choice. We as Othello have not made that choice yet, so I’m not sure what the right answer there is.”

Schenck said the effort to improve security is ongoing, and that a community forum would be a way to get the word out to parents and district patrons.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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