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Unique school safety training in Medina County brings police, fire and school leaders together

Posted at 6:34 PM, Aug 07, 2018

Medina is the first county in Northeast Ohio to take part in a unique school safety training that brings police, fire, EMS and school leaders together. It's taking place as parents throughout the county get ready to send their children back to school.

The three-day training, called "School Based Threat, Risk and Vulnerability Assessment" started Tuesday morning at the Medina County Career Center. The program is put on by Captain Chris Gandia, a New Hampshire police officer, and James Coyne, a retired Rhode Island captain.

Gandia said the training blends the cultures of school officials and police officers, enabling them to brainstorm ideas on how to make schools harder targets.

"A lot of times, the schools and the first responders will assume that others are doing certain tasks or events and are not on the same page," Gandia said. "When we put a class on like this, those expectations kind of get washed out and we get a unified front."

Gandia stressed "deter and detect" as proactive measures when it comes to preventing school violence and "delay and defend" as reactive measures if a gunman makes his way into a school. Delay relates to safety drills practiced by students and teachers that can help prevent an intruder from hurting people.

The class also emphasized the importance of building relationships with students, so they feel comfortable reporting something suspicious.

Officer David Pinkas with the Montville Police Department is the school resource officer in the Medina City School District. He said the training could make a huge difference.

"You can have all the training in the world just for your agency, but we're not going to handle a situation all by ourselves. We have to work collectively with the other agencies," Pinkas said.

Those attending the class agreed they can't live in a bubble when it comes to threats of school violence.

The deadly rampage at a high school in Parkland, Florida in February and a local case of a Jackson Middle School student, who planned to hurt others before he committed suicide in a school bathroom, are examples that a tragedy can happen anywhere.

"I think when you see the number of things that go on outside, you just have to realize that you could potentially be next," said Steven Chrisman, the superintendent of Medina County Career Center.

Chrisman said his campus has several cameras, a school resource officer, a welcome desk and locked doors, but he felt the training offered another layer of protection.

"We have to speak the same language. We have to have the same philosophy on how to address the situations, so my biggest takeaway is this is a huge collaborative effort to protect our students," he said.

Leaders from nine school districts in the county will also be able to download software that can help groups assess the safety of their buildings.

"This tool will allow them to prioritize their schools in terms of resources, which schools have more of a potential threat element in them, if there's a certain school that may have more vulnerabilities," Gandia said.

Discussions are in the works to bring the training to other counties in the area.