District Undertakes Security Review in Wake of Lomond Incident

No “articulate policy” for allowing students to go to restroom, lockers

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In his Feb. 24 email to Lomond Elementary School parents and staff informing them of the district’s decision to place kindergarten teacher Cathleen Grieshop on administrative assignment for the remainder of the school year, Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. promised to review security practices districtwide.

“If there are changes we need to make to our security measures, policies, and procedures to protect our children at Lomond and our other schools from this type of danger, we will certainly do so,” he wrote.

The district put Grieshop on administrative leave Jan. 9 after a student asked her to go to his locker and instead ventured outside the building, according to Shaker Heights Teachers’ Association President John Morris.

Morris said Grieshop realized her student was missing after five minutes and immediately called the main office, computer lab, lunchroom and aftercare. A neighbor found the student and called the police three minutes later.

Overall, the district policy is that a teacher needs to know where students are at all times. How that happens could vary at each school.”

— Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.

Shaker teachers and parents voiced concern over Lomond and the district’s security practices at a Board of Education Meeting Feb. 10. Third grade Fernway teacher Lena Paskewitz read a letter signed by 123 Shaker faculty members asking the district to “use this unfortunate event to review and improve [security] procedures” rather than firing Grieshop.

In an interview March 10, Hutchings declined to say whether Grieshop followed Lomond’s protocols. He said procedure for allowing students to go to the restroom or their lockers and what to do if a student goes missing, particularly how long to wait before contacting someone and who to contact, varies among the schools.

“Overall, the district policy is that a teacher needs to know where students are at all times. How that happens could vary at each school,” he said. Lomond Principal Carina Freeman did not return emails and phone calls seeking an interview on the school’s safety practices.

“There’s yet to be a really articulate policy” regarding when and how teachers should permit students to go to their lockers or the restroom, Morris said. Each school provides guidelines to teachers, but each teacher submits his or her own classroom policy, which is approved by an administrator, according to Morris.

Hutchings said the Jan. 9 incident was the first time an incident involving a student leaving a school building unattended has “come across my desk.” This is Hutchings’ second school year as superintendent. He said he was surprised when teachers told him there have been other similar incidents recently.

“From what I’m hearing from teachers, this has happened before. That was new information to me,” Hutchings said, adding that he’s still “trying to get a straight answer” on how and when those incidents occurred.

Communications Director Peggy Caldwell said she’s not aware of any records the district keeps of students leaving elementary school buildings unattended.

There’s yet to be a really articulate policy.”

— John Morris

Lomond parent Corinne Berrett, whose child is in Grieshop’s former class, said after the Feb. 10 board meeting that she’s disappointed with Lomond’s security measures. Berrett, who moved here from Florida, said the school her children would have attended there had sensors on the doors that would notify the office if a student left during the school day. She suggested Shaker consider installing something similar.

No Shaker school has door sensors, according to Hutchings. He said the district is looking into whether other first-ring Cleveland suburbs have this technology. Beyond this, Hutchings declined to say what the district is considering changing as it reviews security in the wake of the Lomond incident.

Hutchings declined to disclose whether there is a security camera located at each exterior door in every Shaker school, or if a staff member monitors feeds from the cameras in real time at any of the schools, saying that releasing this information to the public could compromise school safety.

All eight Shaker schools’ exterior doors are locked once school starts, Hutchings said. Visitors at all schools except the high school are allowed in by secretaries, who unlock main entrance doors remotely, according to Hutchings.

Secretaries typically ask through a microphone whom visitors are there to see before letting them in. Once inside, visitors must sign in and present an ID.

Security guards are stationed at Woodbury, the middle school and the high school, but not at the five elementary schools, Hutchings said.

Hutchings advised that The Shakerite interview Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Stephen Wilkins, who oversees the security department. Wilkins’ secretary referred The Shakerite to Safety and Security Coordinator Vic Ferrell, who said March 5 that he was unable to do an interview because the district “is looking at a lot of stuff right now.”

The safety of our children is still in question.”

— Heather Macks

Presented with this information, Hutchings reaffirmed that Wilkins was the right person to interview in an email to The Shakerite and Wilkins. Contacted again March 5, Wilkins’ secretary said that Wilkins didn’t have any space in his schedule for a 30-minute interview until April 9.

When former Security Director Mike Gale retired after last school year, Hutchings decided not to replace him. Ferrell, formerly in charge of high school security, is now in charge of district security as well, according to Caldwell.

Hutchings said he considers this year a pilot year, and the district will review its security management structure at the end of the school year. “It’s really difficult for me to say at this point whether or not we need an actual director of security. I can say that in the years that we have had a director of security, we’ve still had incidents and issues that have occurred in regards to safety,” he said.

Heather Macks, a parent of one of Grieshop’s former students, said in an email interview March 3 that she’s still concerned about security.

“I don’t feel the heart of the problem or the event that started this whole debate/issue has been corrected! The safety of our children is still in question,” she wrote. “I don’t want a prison for my child, but in this day and age we can’t bury our heads in the sand and think nothing will happen. I still believe a better system needs to be put into place to keep our kids in the school and keep strangers/danger out.”

At four out of eight Shaker schools, classroom doors were left unlocked during lockdown drills this school year. Read about this and other flaws in lockdown drills across the district, here. This story appears in Volume 85, Issue 4 of The Shakerite.

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