School Security Takes Center Stage at Board of Education Meeting

School Security Takes Center Stage at Board of Education Meeting

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Ocean City School Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor was honored by the Board of Education.

School safety and security, always a topic of concern and interest to educators, parents and students nationwide, once again was a major topic at the Ocean City Board of Education meeting on Wednesday.

The most recent incident to attract national attention, the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida, brought school security issues to the fore locally and dominated discussions here.

“This is nothing new, this is something we take very seriously and something that is not just spoken about, but worked on constantly,” said School Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Taylor. “Still, we must continually look at our procedures, the best practices of other districts to learn from their experiences, and to inform our community of everything we are doing. “

Dr. Taylor, who earlier in the evening was formally honored by the Board for her recognition as New Jersey Superintendent of the Year, emphasized communication and coordination of all stakeholders was essential to the success of any security plan the Board would put into place.

“In Florida, it seemed as if everyone had an answer, a piece of the puzzle,” she said,” but the puzzle wasn’t put together until after the fact, and of course that was too late.”

Rich Wheeler, who moved to Ocean City from the Cherry Hill School District, urged the Board to deliver the highest level of security possible.

In an effort to maintain not only transparency, but to prepare faculty, staff, students parents and the community at large for a possible incident, Dr. Taylor said Ocean City Schools have identified an additional comprehensive safety and security communications initiative and would share what could be made public at the March meeting.

In an effort to maintain not only transparency, but to prepare faculty, staff, students parents and the community at large for a possible incident, Dr. Taylor said Ocean City Schools have identified an additional comprehensive safety and security communications initiative and would share what could be made public at the March meeting.

With that, Board member Dale Braun Jr. said communications need to be made strategically as well. To be effective, he said, districts must share some but not all of the measures and policies.

“You have to share some of your cards, but not all of the cards you are going to play,” said Braun, citing his background and experiences in the Philadelphia public school system. “The unofficial policy was to do what needed to be done and to apologize for it later,” he said, stating that transparency in security matters can sometimes be taken too far. “You show some of your cards, but not all.”

Chris Straub, who graduated from Ocean City High School, is passionate about protecting the students.

Braun and other members noted a new emphasis is being placed on the mental health aspects of these shootings and the importance of identifying issues both physically, such as increased security presence at school and outside events held on school grounds as well as providing at-risk students with the help they need to avoid the possibility of their taking violent actions.

The idea he said was to spot red flags, act on them and take therapeutic and other steps in advance, before the problems bubble over and manifest in a violent incident.

Ocean City is already ahead of the curve in this regard, Dr. Taylor noted.

“We have a social worker in each school,” she said. “I’m not aware of any other district with that type of resource,” she said.

No policies or strategies are foolproof, she stressed, however looking at school safety regularly and on an ongoing basis was key to minimizing the risks.

“I cant say it strongly enough that people have to get involved and help us,” in the process she said.

The top three finishers in the Colony Club Spelling Bee were honored at the recent meeting of the Ocean City Board of Education.  From left are Ellie Wisham, Eddie Wisham and Elizabeth Herrera.

“If you see something, tell an administrator,” she said. “If you hear something, tell an administrator. “

Rich Wheeler and Chris Straub, both parents and youth coaches in the community, said “covert” measures were vitally important to school safety in the year 2018, and this would include the possibility of trained and armed security personnel inside the schools.

“I don’t know that there are statistics showing how many incidents have been deterred” by armed security, he said, but that if it was even one, it was worth it. “This is not an issue that is going away.”

Straub called the matter one of “grave concern” and cited Florida and other recent incidents for “failures of those charged with the safety and security of our students. “It’s not just a matter of policy. We can’t rely on policy. We have to keep all options on the table, and that includes armed (personnel) inside the school.”

With these matters in mind, Dr. Taylor noted:

  • Schools Business Administrator Timothy Kelley was in the midst of a comprehensive training program on school safety and security.
  • The Board’s current preparations and plans for dealing with an in-school incident would be presented, the extent they can be, at the next meeting.
  • No new ideas would be taken lightly or dismissed. “We need to think outside the box” to determine what’s best for Ocean City,” she said.
  • She asked the Board to consider requiring a security presence not only at official school functions but also at events and activities by outside groups. At present, she said, this is not routinely done as it is at official school functions. As a result in the future, CCD classes, scouting events, city events and meetings of community clubs and organizations may be required to have security on site, she said.
  • Keeping the schools safer internally through counseling at-risk students, expanding efforts beyond those already in place and taking measures into every area of the district’s physical plants. The efforts can no longer be limited to the Wellness Rooms in the schools, Dr. Taylor said.
  • Students are becoming more involved in the security process and more taking more of an activist’s role. Students, as young as fourth graders, are getting involved in the process
  • A “Dialog Meeting” for middle school age students would be held in Ocean City and hosted by its 8th graders at 6 p.m. March 5 at the high school. “This is their forum,” Dr. Taylor stated, but it was her hope the session would be well attended by community members district-wide.

    The Ocean City Board of Education honored Intermediate School students Christian Ganter who won the 7th grade competition and Eddie D’Amico, judged to be the top 8th grader in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Essay contest. Topic was “What Does Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of peace and justice mean to me, an intermediate school student.

In other matters Wednesday, the Board honored students for the Middle School’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Essay competition, for the Colony Club Spelling Bee and for state educational achievement recognition.