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Cambridge City Schools News Article

Safety of Students and Staff Remains Top Priority

On May 24, not even a week after Cambridge City Schools closed for summer break, the hearts of parents across the country skipped a beat as they heard news reports about another school shooting. This time it was an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Way too many times in the past 25 years, hearts were broken as similar tragedies took place significantly closer to home than a previously unheard-of town in Texas. According to an NPR news story, the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School was the 27th school shooting this year.

While safety procedures, secure entrances, and school resource officers cannot guarantee a tragedy similar to the one at Robb Elementary will never happen in Cambridge, those precautions are in place and drills are practiced -- similar to fire drills -- that will give our students and staff the tools and expertise to fend off an attack and protect themselves.

“I think it goes without saying that the safety of our students is our first priority as it should be in any district,” Superintendent Dan Coffman said. “We have a number of safety features installed at our buildings and safety policies and plans in place for several different scenarios.
“We hope we never have to utilize those features or implement those plans, but it is important that we are prepared, and we can execute if we need to do so,” Coffman added.

Secure Entrances
Each building in the School District is secured with automatically locking doors that can only be opened from the outside by a key or a key card. Most staff members use their key cards/ID badge to swipe into the buildings they have been given access to enter.

Those without access, have to ring the doorbell at the main entrance of the school to be “buzzed in” by staff members. Visitors are viewed by staff members on video feeds and can communicate with staff members. The video feed is saved for several days in case there is a need to review who was at the door. Video is recorded 24-7 every day.

“The goal is to keep anyone who is not authorized to be in the building out of the building,” Coffman said. “It can be a hassle sometimes, but it is necessary.”

Door Barricades
Keeping intruders out of the building is the first line of defense. The second line of defense is to keep intruders out of classrooms.At Cambridge, classroom doors have locks, plus the district has invested in in additional safety measures during the past few years. Now, each classroom door has been fitted with a door barricade.

A door barricade is a rigid plastic device that slides over the bottom of the door and is secured by a pin that slides into the hole in the floor. The door barricades are easy to use and makes it extraordinarily difficult to open a door to a classroom.

Two-way Radios
Approximately two years ago, the district purchased a two-way radio system that enables staff members at each building to talk to each other and to the police department without the use of landlines or cellular phones. They also have a silent signal that can be used to contact law enforcement in an emergency.

“We had walkie-talkies before, but they didn’t allow building-to-building communication or the ability to contact law enforcement,” Coffman said. “These radios get used in the building every day especially at drop-off and pickup times, but the real value is the ability communicate in a crisis situation when landlines are not accessible and cell towers are overwhelmed and not available.”

Approximately 100 radios were purchased. All buses and maintenance vehicles now have a radio in addition to the transportation office, the secretaries in each building, the principals, and other staff members.

The communication system was purchased with school safety grant funds and money from the district’s permanent improvement fund.

School Resource Officers

While technology can provide tools that help protect children, the presence of law enforcement can be a deterrent and provide a level of leadership in a crisis situation.

At the beginning of last school year, Cambridge Schools added a second School Resource Officer (SRO). A partnership with the City of Cambridge led to the addition of a second SRO.

The city obtained a Community Oriented Policing Services or COPS Hiring Program grant that provided them with the funding to hire and assign two police officers to Cambridge Schools.

Police Officer Ben Harper was assigned to the school district starting in 2021. Harper, a product of the Cambridge School District, joins Ryan Oliver who has been assigned to Cambridge Schools for several years.

“It is a win-win for us to have a second SRO,” Coffman said. “Getting Ryan on board a few years ago was a step in the right direction for the district. Having a second full-time person is significant and something many districts of our size do not have.”

Harper is based at the Middle School while Oliver is at the High School. Both officers visit the other buildings in the school district.
“They add a tremendous value from a law enforcement standpoint of keeping our staff and students safe,” Coffman said. “They also are instrumental in our school safety plan, and they conduct lockdown drills and ALICE drills.”

The School District and the City have split the cost of a resource officer in the past and will continue to split any expenses in the future, however, that financial burden has been significantly lowered by the COPS grant obtained by the City. The grant funds two officers by providing $250,000 over a three-year period.

School Safety Plans
Every district in Ohio is required to develop a detailed school safety plan with the cooperation of local law enforcement and other safety agencies, like the fire department. That plan, a protected document, gets filed with the State of Ohio. The school resource officers have an instrumental role in the development of the plan.

The goals of a school safety plan are to make sure staff members and members of responding organizations, like the Cambridge Police and Fire departments, know their responsibilities in advance of a crisis and that they are comfortable working together.

“The partnership with the city is extremely important. We are part of the city, and it is important that we work together to benefit the community,” Coffman said. “It is extremely beneficial for everyone involved to know that there is open dialog and conversation going on between the school district and the city.”

While response in a crisis is a crucial part of the school safety plan, it also includes best practices that would reduce the risk of a crisis situation.

Arming Teachers
In June of 2022, Ohio implemented a law making it easier for school employees to complete training that would enable them to carry firearms in school. In the past, school districts had the ability to decide if they wanted to arm employees and many districts, including Cambridge, did so.

A court ruling in 2019 required those employees to complete close to 700 hours of firearm training – essentially the same training as law enforcement officers -- to be legally allowed to carry firearms in school buildings. Cambridge was forced to stop the safety practice.
The new law significantly lowers the amount of training needed and still allows local school boards and school districts to decide if they want to allow staff to carry firearms and how much training will be required.

“In an active shooter situation, having armed staff members allows a more immediate response and could save lives,” Coffman said. “With the new law going into effect, our board will certainly consider a policy that would allow us to arm staff members.”

It is clear that not every staff member will be armed.

“As in the past, staff members selected or designated to carry firearms will meet appropriate training requirements, work with our School Resource Officers and administrators, and have a clear understanding of their responsibilities,” Coffman added.

Students and Parents
While all the above listed precautions and policies will significantly reduce risk to our students, we also need our parents and students to participate in protecting their students.

We ask that parents cooperate with our policies and talk with your students in a reaffirming way about why these procedures and features are needed.

We ask that if you see something that does not look appropriate or concerns you, that you contact the building principal or your child’s teacher to share that information as soon as possible. It is better to be safe than sorry.

“We encourage our students and parents to say something if they see something that appears to be out of the ordinary or is not ‘right,’” Coffman said. “We appreciate when our parents share their concerns, and we thank them for their support of our teachers and staff members when it comes to school safety.”

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