Local School Districts Focus On Preventing School Shootings

In the News

This article originally appeared on The State Journal. To view the original article, click here.

There was a bomb threat at Franklin County High School last week as well as a thwarted attempted “copycat” bomb threat at Western Hills earlier this week.

The FCHS building was evacuated, students were moved to two nearby churches, bookbags were searched. No one was injured, and the incident ended uneventfully — although a total of four juveniles have been criminally charged.

It’s the outcome school districts work to achieve, and one that both public districts in Franklin County plan for.

“When you’re talking about a plan, you want to focus on being proactive versus reactive,” Franklin County Schools Superintendent Mark Kopp said. “So a lot of what we’re talking about with the emphasis on school safety is what are the things we can put in place with our students that can hopefully address some of the issues so that they don’t become bigger issues.

“We really put in a lot of supports for the mental health of our students. We have hired and put in place behavior interventionists at all of our elementary and middle schools. We’ve hired additional social workers where we now have social workers that cover every building in the district in addition to our guidance counselors.

“So we’ve put in place these supports that hopefully are proactive,” Kopp added. “The other part of being proactive is having a great plan, and part of having a great plan is putting the right people in place that can formulate the plan and then implement it.”

Frankfort Independent Schools is also focusing on prevention when it comes to student safety.

“We have in the past year or two made positions of mental health specialists,” FIS Chief Operating Officer Bobby Driskell said.

The district employs two mental health specialists, and two are through the Healthy Kids Clinic, with a clinic in both Frankfort High and Second Street.

The district also has a school wellness counselor and a licensed clinical social worker, and that’s in addition to the guidance counselors at each school. FHS has one guidance counselor, and there are two at Second Street.

“We’re in a good place with mental health as far as having resources at the ready,” FIS Superintendent Sheri Satterly said.

Classroom doors must remain closed and locked in FIS schools, and windows in the doors must be covered.

“We have all our prevention meetings with a coordinator who comes and checks all our staff and makes sure we’re in compliance every year,” Driskell said. “He’ll walk around and check doors, make sure they’re locked. We have to have certain posters posted. He’ll check exterior doors, make sure they’re locked. And we’ve never not been in compliance.

“The doors have to stay locked every day, and that’s something I go around and check.”

“I was a teacher who always wanted to teach with my door open,” Satterly said. “I get it, but as a principal that was one of my biggest fights. I was always pulling classroom doors shut.”

All FIS staff undergoes active shooter training, and there are drills at the schools.

“We don’t call them active shooter drills,” Satterly said. “They’re more like lockdown drills. The principal comes on and says we’re in a lockdown, therefore all doors have to be shut. They should already be shut and locked, but no students are to be in the hallways. We’ll walk around and check doors and stuff.

“Prevention is a big piece of that, and that’s where the mental health piece comes in. We can intervene early rather than too late.”

The Kentucky legislature passed the School Safety and Resiliency Act in 2019, which established new school safety protocols and created the Kentucky Center for School Safety along with the position of school security marshal at the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training.

This year the general assembly passed House Bill 63 that requires a school resource officer (SRO) at each school by Aug. 1 and to allow a school district to establish its own police department. The bill was a non-funded mandate.

In the past, FCS had three school resource officers and then had a school safety coordinator in Jeff Abrams.

“So one thing we shifted a little bit this year is we added three positions basically at the sheriff level,” Kopp said. “Jeff’s position, while he’s still our school safety coordinator, he’s now the captain of the school resource officers, so he’s an employee of the sheriff’s department.

“And we added two additional school resource officers, one for each of our middle schools, so now we have school resource officers in both our middles, both of our high schools and the Academy, and then we have Capt. Abrams supervising them. He can also float between buildings.

“We’re very pleased that now we have at each middle school, at each high school and at the Academy a full-time school resource officer, and we have an additional person in Jeff who supervises them and can provide additional assistance, so that’s six people where in the past we had three.”

Funding for an SRO in each building is a challenge for both districts.

“Funding, obviously, it’s very difficult to make that happen,” Kopp said. “The authors of the bill understood that, so what they said is if you can’t do that, at least put into place a plan and show us what you are doing to go toward that goal.”

The school resource officers are employed by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. The district has a contract with the sheriff’s office and reimburses their salary and mileage.

“Officially, we don’t have any of our own,” Satterly said about SROs, “but we have a very good relationship with both the Frankfort Police Department and the sheriff’s office. We have officers in the buildings every day.”

Frankfort Independent has a safety plan approved by the state.

“We submitted our plan and they approved it,” Driskell said. “I just got a letter the other day back from the state that our safe school plan is approved. We realize we don’t have the funding for an SRO, but we’re interested in the future.”

Both school districts have implemented the Raptor Visitor Management System in all their school buildings. With the system, a visitor’s driver’s license is scanned for any red flags.

“It does a really quick background check and will alert us to any issues immediately,” Satterly said.

That’s a far cry from how schools operated when Kopp began his career in education.

“I started teaching in 93, 94, and none of this, none of this was in place at that time,” he said. “With Columbine things changed dramatically, so when the community or taxpayers in our community, when they see boards of education take a 4% increase it’s not just because ‘hey, we have to buy history textbooks.’ It’s because we have to protect our kids, and we have to do everything we can to do that.

“There is no more important job. I may not have said this in 1994 when I started teaching, but there’s no more important job than making sure we provide a safe environment for our kids. It was important back then, but you just didn’t think about it. Kids came to school, we taught them and they went home.”

That’s still the plan in a time where the United States had 93 school shootings in the 2020-2021 school year, according to a federal report released in June from the National Center for Education Statistics, a research arm of the Education Department.

While prevention is key, FCS has a plan in place if students and staff are in danger.

“I can speak generally about it,” Abrams said. “Obviously, I won’t go into great detail with regard to the tactics, but we absolutely have a plan. The one thing I would say is if anyone threatens any of the children on our watch, they’re going to be met with vast resistance.

“Our No. 1 goal is to harden our targets and prevent that from ever happening, but should it happen, there will be no doubt they will be swiftly met with resistance.

“The school resource officers program has been in place for quite a few years, but it’s never truly been in my mind structured, and so what we’re looking to do with this new move the superintendent and sheriff [Chris Quire] were able to negotiate and work out, we’re essentially developing a division within the sheriff’s office that is school safety.”

The school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, resulted in the deaths of 19 students and two teachers while law enforcement waited over an hour after entering the building before going into the classroom where the shooting occurred.

“That absolutely would never happen here,” Abrams said. “We will not tolerate any acts of violence in our schools.

“It’s always so unfortunate when anything like that happens. It’s tragic and there are not enough adjectives to describe how bad it is. The one thing we never fail to do is learn from other people’s mistakes, and I would hope we wouldn’t repeat those mistakes. We dissect it when we have the opportunity learn from those horrific events.

“One of my go-to catch phrases is ‘if it’s predictable, it’s preventable.’ That’s kind of the basis on which I do most of my planning.”