Forum addresses children's safety in schools

School, health and safety officials from Westlake and Avon Lake shared information about measures being taken to keep children safe in school.

The 912 Project Westlake hosted a Children's Safety in Schools speakers' forum on Saturday, May 5, as part of their objective to inform citizens about issues of community concern. Allen Porter, Westlake resident and member of the 912 Project moderated the forum that included: Bob Scott, Avon Lake superintendent; Scott Goggin, Westlake superintendent; Dr. Kathleen Kern, executive director of the Lorain County Board of Mental Health; Capt. Duane Streator, Avon Lake Police chief; Capt. Kevin Bielozer, Westlake Police chief; Kendra Yurgionas, Westlake Police patrolman; and Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka.

From Columbine, Colorado, to Parkland, Florida, we have experienced frightening scenes of school shootings for the last decade. What are the educators, safety officers, and mental health experts in our communities of Avon Lake and Westlake doing to protect our children from a school intruder’s harm?

Different strategies have been chosen to protect Avon Lake and Westlake school children. Avon Lake uses a strategy of getting away or attacking to disable an intruder. Westlake uses the lock down, barricade protection strategy.

In both Avon lake and Westlake an armed resource officer is in the school and available to build relationships with students to encourage open communication that may reduce the chance of an incident of harm to the student body. In all student bodies, the students know which students are troubled and so it is important for them to know who they can trust to tell their concern.

Response time is greatly reduced with an armed officer in the school.

The new Westlake Elementary School under construction on Center Ridge Road is in a two-block proximity to the Westlake Police Dept., which will reduce response time in the event of ASRT, Active Shooter Response Time.

Dr. Kern pointed out that myths of mental illness and violence are misleading. She stated the stigma associated with mental health requires educators and police to know what characteristics of mental illness to look for in students and know how to respond and get help. The mental Health Boards of Lorain County and Cuyahoga County have programs to educate the public, students and parents on these mental illness issues. They are engaged partners in quarterly planning meetings for student safety with school and law enforcement officials in Westlake and Avon Lake.

Westlake Police patrolman Kendra Yurgionas addressed the social media used by students that few people in the audience use. It is the mode of communication for students that she uses to connect with them. Partnering with Tri-C for programs for education of parents on how the internet technology works and how to keep it safe for their children.

Questions from the audience expressed concern for how schools are instructing students on morality of self-constraint based on a foundation of ethics and respect for the individual? What has replaced prayer in schools? Parkland had a resource officer in the school that did not execute his duty. How did that help?

These are fundamental issues of our culture that are a catalyst for school violence. Schools begin in kindergarten to create a welcoming and inclusive environment that connects with the community and continues through all school grades. Encourage parents to continue conversations with their children. Parents are the eyes and ears of their family and need to know who to call when something seems off.

Clearly we have school, police and mental health experts that have considered this threat and we found out how they are working together to protect children in our schools.

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Volume 10, Issue 10, Posted 9:34 AM, 05.15.2018