The most visible and extensive safety training in recent memory for Conneaut School District came in the form of an active shooter drill held at Conneaut Area Senior High in July 2016. The simulation involved more than 30 volunteers as well as officials from Crawford County Emergency Management Agency and a variety of law enforcement agencies.

Training for faculty and staff has continued since then, according to Superintendent Jarrin Sperry, as it has for other districts in the area as well.

“It's the world that we live in,” Sperry said. “Look at what happened in Las Vegas and all the school incidents recently. It's heartbreaking, but to put your head in the sand and not prepare — no one would ever say that.

“You prepare and preparedness is one of the keys to staying safe.”

Crawford Central School District, like many districts across the nation continues to employ the ALICE Training — an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate — to be better prepared in case of an active shooter situation, according to Superintendent Tom Washington. The school also has a protocol for evaluating and responding to potential bomb threats, though like his colleagues, Washington preferred to avoid discussing the specific details of the district's protocol.

Michael Healey, PENNCREST superintendent, was likewise reticent to discuss details.

"The district does have specific protocol in place for each school in the event of an active shooter,” Healey explained in an email. “It's not advisable to make this information public, as any given snippet of information could provide a potential perp an advantage they previously didn't have."

Throughout the districts, preparation can include regular lockdown drills, reviews of specific emergency-response protocols for bomb threats and intruders and periodic discussions of crisis, according to the superintendents.

Perhaps the height of local security came in November 2015 when rumors spread that someone was planning to bring guns to CASH. While the rumors proved unfounded, the district responded by screening every student with a metal-detecting wand upon entry to the school.

That has not happened again since then, Sperry said, though the CASH School Safety Officer Kurt Sitler periodically wands students upon entry.

“He's a vital component,” Sperry said of the role safety officer play in school security, calling for all schools nationally to have access to such officers.

“It shouldn't be a matter of dollars and cents to protect kids,” he said.

Washington, too, pointed to the school safety and resource officers at Meadville Area Senior High as key parts of the safety equation, but also expressed the hope that safety will come to be seen and addressed within a larger context of concerns.

“School safety is not just about making it safe from intruders, it's about making it safe from the inside out,” Washington said. “That has to do with not just school safety but with what I'm calling a whole-school safety net for children.”

School safety officers and resource officers play an important role in the type of safety-net approach Washington hopes to see, but they would be part of a larger team that connects schools more directly to the larger human services community. Such a team would include more guidance counselors in schools and would provide access to mental health professionals and social workers as well. Already, Crawford Central has

“More youngsters are coming to the schoolhouse with childhood trauma and mental health issues,” Washington said. “We're becoming more educated about it and, I think, people are experiencing it more in our society.” 

Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at Lorri Drumm also contributed reporting to this story.

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