Hudson -- Communication is a key component to keeping schools and the community safe, several speakers reiterated at the Keep Hudson Safe forum Feb. 7 at Hudson High School.
The Keep Hudson Safe Initiative is an effort by Hudson civic leaders to ensure the safety of the community in the wake of violent incidents across the country, including the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
More than 130 people attended the Keep Hudson Safe forum and discussion Feb. 7 at the Hudson High School, which was initiated by Paul and Jane Mougey and hosted by Hudson Community First.
The speakers included moderator Mayor William Currin, Hudson City School District Superintendent Steve Farnsworth, Hudson High School Student Government President Ben Tiemann, City Council President David Basil, Assistant City Manager Scott Schroyer, Police Chief David Robbins and Georgette Constantinou, director of pediatric psychiatry and psychology, child neurology and developmental-behavioral pediatrics at Akron Children's Hospital.
Each explained how communication is key to identifying and defusing dangerous situations.
"We need to find the best ways to protect one another," Currin stated the purpose of the forum.
The city has improved communication through its website and emergency alert system, Basil said. The city and schools meet monthly to discuss issues and share concerns or ways to help each other.
The schools in Hudson -- Hudson City Schools, Western Reserve Academy, Seton Catholic School and Hudson Montessori School -- have worked with each other and the police department for years on safety and security, Farnsworth said.
Doors and windows are clearly marked for safety forces, he said. Each class has an evacuation bag and safety equipment for lockdowns, Farnsworth said. Staff and students are trained in how to save their lives and others.
Farnsworth said students and staff are encouraged to report anything suspicious to an anonymous safe school help line -- 1-800-418-6423. "See Something, Say Something" is the initiative's motto.
The district is exploring changes to main entrances in four of its schools, according to Farnsworth.
Keeping students safe
Robbins said the police force has a bigger presence in the schools, with Officer Michael Burchard assigned to the high school and a patrol car parked randomly in front of schools in the city.
One resident asked about placing full-time police officers in all the schools.
Robbins agreed it would be the best deterrent, but financially difficult. He said the city has untapped resources in retired police officers but cautioned that a school shooting is a low frequency, high impact event. The community shouldn't make a "knee-jerk reaction" but proceed slowly and gather information to find a sustainable method to protect children, he said.
"A good question for the community is, 'What kind of school do you want?'" Farnsworth said.
Another resident asked about safety at preschools, particularly those at open churches.
Burchard said he has visited several preschools to help with safety issues and explain the necessary steps to keep kids safe.
Another resident said the public schools are wide open after hours for meetings or other events.
The schools become community facilities for recreation after hours, Farnsworth said.
"Does the public want doors locked, a guard at the door or schools left open for recreation use?" he asked. "We have to decide as a community what is best."
Liz Murphy, representing the Merchants of Hudson and Destination Hudson, said businesses are willing to help by providing a safe place for children when they are downtown and feel threatened.
Making buildings safe is easier than dealing with the mental and emotional problems of students, according to Constantinou.
Stress and abuse increases in poor economic times, Constantinou said. Another problem is over scheduling children so they live life at a rapid pace.
"The topic of stress came up over and over," Farnsworth said. "There are a lot of highly driven folks in Hudson. It's not a bad thing, but it causes some concern if it's not balanced. If it gets out of whack, we have severe issues for students."
Mental issues have gone up since a study in 2003 when 20 percent of children were diagnosed with serious emotional disturbances, Constantinou said. It is estimated that by 2020 that number will be 50 percent. Mental illness is the most common illness to damage children, she added.
Constantinou encouraged the audience to communicate with people who are troubled.
"They have a problem," she said. "Embrace and help get them through issues. Help them know it's a better day tomorrow."
Of all the children with mental issues, only a third receive treatment, and half of the most severe don't receive any treatment, Constantinou said.
Constantinou shared symptoms and signs of children who might become violent or suicidal.
"Have the courage to identify kids in trouble, stand next to them and get them help," Constantinou said. "Kids don't want to walk into a mental health facility, but they know they need help."
Any child can be evaluated at Akron Children's Psychiatric Intake Response Center by calling 330-543-7472 or walking into the emergency room.
"We evaluate for risks," Constantinou said. "But we can't predict behavior tomorrow. We look at factors and give our best opinion."
Hudson Schools Director of Pupil Services Kelly Kempf said the school invites speakers to talk about violence, diversity and accepting differences among students.
"We work with students to empower them," she said.
Constantinou said empowering students helps to stop bullying.
"Do you want to be a hero?" Constantinou said. "We talk about the power of the bystander, the kid who just watches and the one who speaks up or acts to stop the bullying."
Children need to make each other accountable for their actions and make everyone feel comfortable in their environment, Constantinou said.
"Kids have to start talking to kids," she added.
Tiemann said he believes the number of students willing to stand up to bullying surpasses the number of students doing the bullying.
"I am proud to say that in my four years at the high school I have never seen a student eat alone during lunch," he said.
Currin said the community needs to keep an open dialogue about safety going and more talks will be planned for the future.