The Athens City School Board is scheduled tonight (Thursday) to hold a special meeting to continue its years-long discussion about a plan for new and renovated school facilities.
At the meeting, which starts at at 6:30 p.m. at Athens High School, the School Board is also expected to introduce a resolution regarding the safety of students, teachers and staff in the district.
Titled “School Safety and Reducing Violence in Schools,” the resolution is included in the meeting agenda. It asserts that “school violence has become an epidemic in the United States” and that children and school employees “deserve to attend school without fear of death or injury, and their families deserve to send them to school without the same fear.”
The resolution “implores” U.S. President Donald Trump, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the U.S. Congress and the Ohio General Assembly to “prioritize the protection of students and school employees” by enacting legislation in four areas:
• To enhance mental-health services and substance-abuse treatment.
• To increase access to school safety measures including School Resource Officers and safety infrastructure.
• To provide training for school employees and enhance coordination with law enforcement.
• And to preserve “the balance between the right to own firearms and the protection of students and school employees from any act of violence.”
City Schools Supt. Tom Gibbs said in an email, “The Board Resolution on School Safety is a combination of one forwarded to us by the Ohio School Boards Association, with some adjustments made based on input from Sean Parsons, board member.”
The resolution comes in tandem with the efforts of local high-school students to reduce gun violence and influence legislation, as well as nationwide efforts to do the same. The Athens County Commissioners passed a similar resolution last week at the request of an Athens High School student.
“In regards to the combined efforts of multiple constituent groups in pushing for changes in legislation and funding related to school safety, I’m excited to see the level of interest,” Gibbs said in the email. “While I believe most schools in our area and across the country are proactive in their planning and implementation of prevention and response measures, there are still external factors outside of our control that make it difficult to address every concern.”
Gibbs explained how the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which claimed 17 lives of students and faculty and left 14 others injured, “exposes the negative impact of human error in any part of the prevention and response process. That specific incident, like many other instances of mass violence, was one that might have been prevented, or the loss mitigated, at multiple steps along the way with more effective levels of threat assessment, prevention measures and response.
“Unfortunately, many prior instances of mass violence demonstrate a similar pattern,” Gibbs continued. “I am hopeful this surge of activity can provide the motivation to our state and federal legislators to create policies and provide funding to further assist schools in providing a safe and secure learning environment for all of our students.”
ASIDE FROM INTRODUCING THE safety resolution, the other items on the agenda relate to the continued discussion of the district’s Facilities Master Plan.
Tony Schorr of Schorr Architects and Michael Dingeldein of Community Design Alliance of Hamilton, Ohio, are expected to give a presentation comparing the master plan options side by side, with an emphasis on the middle-school portion of the plan.
The discussion, according to the meeting agenda, will focus on the grade-level configurations currently being considered; the permanent location of sixth-grade students in the Master Plan, either at The Plains Elementary School or Athens Middle School; consideration of renovation versus a new build for each site; the desire to “segment” the Master Plan into phases; both necessary and optional Locally Funded Initiatives (LFI’s) in the plan; and the need for any additional meetings necessary to finalize the Master Plan and file with the OFCC, including any meetings for garnering community input.
In his email, Supt. Gibbs said he could not predict whether the School Board will come close to making a decision tonight, or how many future meetings may be necessary. “We’ll know better after Thursday’s meeting,” he said. The last special meeting regarding the matter lasted more than two hours, after which the board heard public comments for the usual 30 minutes allowed for public participation.