Parents ask questions, voice concerns about safety in Austintown Schools

Before the safety summit, the school board approved a resolution concerning school violence and mental health

Austintown Schools Safety Summit

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Monday night, Austintown Local Schools held a safety summit for parents, teachers and administrators as a way to continue the conversation about school safety and procedures.

Superintendent Vince Colaluca moderated the hour-and-a-half-long discussion, which invited parents to submit questions that were answered by himself or the Austintown Police Department.

It was a way to make sure the community was aware of things the district is doing to keep students safe, including some measures dating back to the ’80s and others that are completely new.

The night started with a moment of silence for the victims and families affected by the tragic shooting at a Florida high school last month.

“God bless those children and those families,” Colaluca said.

School safety has been on the minds of many since that shooting, which claimed 17 lives. It’s a discussion leaders in the Austintown School District aren’t shying away from.

Colaluca said the district’s safety committee meets about once a month or every other month.

“Looking at school safety, you know, ‘Are we doing the best practices that are known across the country?'”

The Austintown Police Department, which has eight officers patrolling the district’s campus alone, is also heavily involved in those talks. Chief Bob Gavalier said the department’s relationship with the school predates Columbine and has been evolving ever since.

“Back then, the tactic was to wait until your officers arrived or until a SWAT team got there. Our officers here are not going to wait. Our officers are going to go in right away.”

About 200 people packed the Fitch auditorium, listening as Colaluca and Police Lieutenant Tom Collins addressed several issues, including loopholes in school security, lockdown procedures and ALICE training.

Watch: Entire safety summit

“Teachers get into the profession because they are educators and nurturers. They want to teach children, they want to be mentors to those children,” Collins said.

One question that got a lot of reaction from the crowd was about arming teachers. Collins focused on officer training evaluation.

“The question that comes up is if you empower these teachers to carry a firearm, who else is going to evaluate them? We’re talking a huge Pandora’s box we’re opening,” he said.

“We’re not digging too much into the Second Amendment. We feel that’s up to the legislators to make the decisions on,” Colaluca said.

However, Austintown’s board of education is focusing on mental health. The board unanimously passed a resolution an hour-and-a-half before Monday night’s safety summit. It will allow the district to work with lobbyists, the superintendent’s associations and local lawmakers.

“To look at influencing them to pass laws to protect our students around school safety and school violence,” Colaluca said.

He’s hoping to convince lawmakers to give schools money for more counselors, which would directly impact programs surrounding mental health.

Other ideas brought up by parents were metal detectors and transparent backpacks.

The one thing school administrators and police kept going back to was the See Something, Say Something approach — keeping the line of communication open with parents and children, and taking all of their concerns seriously.