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Course draws educators, law enforcement into conversations, next steps

Among the 250 people attending a recent Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy course on school shootings were about 150 teachers, administrators, cooks, bus drivers, and custodians from Amanda Clearcreek Local Schools. There, too, were six members of the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, which provides law enforcement services to the district.

That’s exactly the combination Attorney General Mike DeWine envisioned when OPOTA began offering the training — titled School Shootings: How to be Aware, Prepare, and be a First Responder in a Crisis — earlier this year.
The communication that can result when school officials and law enforcement attend such trainings together represents one of the most powerful tools available to prevent and respond to school shootings.
The trainings, launched in January with the Ohio Department Education, had reached more than 2,600 individuals as of late March, and about 50 more sessions are scheduled.
The Attorney General’s Office is developing a video of the training that will be distributed on DVD to all Ohio school districts.
“This training is very important for teachers and others who work in our schools,” Attorney General DeWine said. “We hope local law enforcement can coordinate with their schools to have agency representatives present for either the in-person or video training.”
Among other topics, the three-hour training covers ways to identify potential problems in advance, steps to take during an incident, and the effect of privacy laws on sharing information. The goal is to empower school staff to intervene with students who could pose a danger and to promote safety planning in conjunction with law enforcement.
“Officers and educators share their experiences in every class. The way they showed an interest in a child, and it seemed to turn the child around. Or how they made a phone call to a parent with their concerns, and the parent offered his or her assistance,” said James Burke, one of three training officers who teaches an OPOTA course on school crises. “None of these things can happen unless we communicate with each other. The most important thing a school can do is encourage communication between their student body and staff.’
Amanda Clearcreek Superintendent Dave Gaul said the course spawned discussions and additional safety measures in his district.
“That has been the most powerful aspect of our participation,” Gaul said, noting that many of his district’s support and service staff members chose to attend the training on their own time. Small steps — such as positioning bookcases so they can be moved in front of classroom doors and checking windows for escape options — already are taking place. “People are feeling a little more empowered.
“We’re here for an academic purpose, but kids need to feel safe in school. For education to take place, you have to have that foundation,” Gaul added.
Dave Phalen, who is in his 13th year as Fairfield County’s sheriff, said although law enforcement is knowledgeable about many of the concepts discussed, his deputies gained insight into warning signs of troubled students and benefited from talking with school officials. He encouraged law enforcement around the state to “take time out to be part of this.”
“We all came away with a better understanding of the profiles of some of the people who historically have been responsible for school shootings,” he said. “It also helps to build relationships.”
Phalen’s department has been involved in the development of school safety plans in his county, and the collaboration is valuable, he said, adding, “I think we’ll be seeing more of that in the future.”
For training details: Information on scheduling options for School Shootings: How to be Aware, Prepare, and be a First Responder in a Crisis is available by sending an e-mail to AskOPOTA@OhioAttorney
Additional resources: Safety plans and building maps for Ohio schools can be downloaded at
Task force developing resources
Attorney General DeWine expanded his office’s School Safety Task Force late last year. The group — representing law enforcement, fire and rescue, schools, the mental health community, and others — is developing:
  • A model school safety plan and template to guide local officials
  • Recommendations on how to prepare for and respond to crises
  • Best practices for identifying potential problems before they escalate