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Amid school lead concerns, Middletown elementary gets water station

Published: Monday, January 29, 2018 @ 5:30 AM

Middletown’s Amanda Elementary starts water bottle filling station.

When it comes to kids choosing what to drink each day, it’s a sugar-soaked world, but students at Amanda Elementary now have an easy and portable option beyond soft drinks.

The Middletown school has a new water bottle filling station and Friday passed out personal water bottles – labeled with “Rethink Your Drink” - to its more than 400 students.

School water quality has grabbed headlines in recent weeks as an investigation by this news organization revealed potentially hazardous levels of lead in some Ohio schools in recent years, including some locally.

Middletown did test water fixtures in its nine schools and found no elevated lead levels, officials said.

MORE: Area schools find more lead in water and plan to test in future

Amanda is the first school in the Butler County district to receive a filling station, where students can replenish their water bottle as often as they like, and one of only a handful in Southwest Ohio to offer the water option beyond the traditional school drinking fountain.

School nurse Tina Smith applied for a grant from a $200,000 campaign by Delta Dental Foundation and said she was concerned by school children not drinking enough water and overindulging in sugary and harmful soda drinks.

“I thought it was really important for the kids to learn healthy drinking habits now as opposed to waiting until they are older. It will help them have not so many health problems,” said Smith, who added the portability factor of students having easy, individual access to water at any time is a big plus.

“And also the kids can have the water bottles in class,” said Smith, who explained that prior to the installation of the filling station students having a water bottle in class required a doctor’s note.

“There are a lot of kids that have dehydration, and that causes problems with not being able to focus,” she said.

Middletown Schools Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. said the new water bottle program reflects the district’s mission to help the whole student, including providing nutritionally sound liquid options during the school day.

MORE: 1st in-school clinic coming to Middletown Schools 

Styles was at the pep rally where Amanda’s more than 400 elementary students were given their individual water bottles – each with a colorful pamphlet explaining the benefits of hydration and showing the excessive amounts of sugar in soda and juice drinks.

“We do try to invest in healthy living habits for our students. Students are receiving water bottles, and we are encouraging them to drink more water, and that has a direct reflection on their life and life-long habits in regards to living a healthy lifestyle,” said Styles.

MORE: Middletown school leader wins national award

Amanda is now one of 54 schools in Ohio to receive a filling station, joining Talawanda’s Middle School and Lakota’s Hopewell Elementary as offering the bottled water option.

Water from drinking fountains and sink faucets in more than a dozen local school buildings were found to have elevated levels of lead in the past two years, leading local school districts to replace some water infrastructure.

Hazardous levels of lead – usually as the result of corrosion in lead fixtures, service-line pipes and lead-based solder used to join pipes – have been found in some Ohio schools.

In 1986, Congress set limits on the amount of lead that could be used in faucets, pipes, solder and other plumbing materials.

Some of Lakota Schools’ 22 buildings were among those cited in the recent report by this news organization showing the drinking water for students has higher than acceptable lead levels.

MORE: 20th anniversary for Lakota’s unique, identical pair of high schools

Seven fixtures tested too high across five Lakota elementary and early-childhood schools – Shawnee, Adena, Creekside, Freedom and Hopewell – and all were replaced. One fixture at Freedom Elementary was 52 times higher than the federal limit, at 790 parts per billion, according to the testing documents. Another at Adena was 11 times the EPA limit.

Chris Passarge, chief operations officer for the school district, said Lakota did not do follow-up testing on those that were replaced.

“We replaced anything that had a positive reading regardless of (whether it was over the federal limit),” Passarge said, pointing to Ohio Facilities Construction Commission data showing that Lakota replaced 23 fixtures.

“In most cases (it was) the sink in the classroom. We had a couple of sinks in the café at Freedom, Liberty Jr. and Creekside.”

(Dayton Daily News Staff Writer Jeremy P. Kelley contributed to this story.)

VIDEO: See the students at Amanda Elementary get their personal bottles for a new water filling station

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Hamilton Schools to undergo security changes this summer

Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2018 @ 10:11 AM

Kings Schools are 1 of a few area districts using an anti-shooter device to keep students safer in classrooms.

It will be one of the busiest summer breaks in years for Hamilton City Schools as new security measures and procedures are installed for next school year, said district officials during Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Hamilton Schools Superintendent Larry Knapp presented an update on a variety of school security efforts and programs all designed to enhance the safety of students and staff in the 10,000-student city school system.

MORE: Middletown High School closes on last day due to threat

School parents will receive information brochures on school emergency procedures, teachers will receive training in treating attack wounds, fire drills will be changed, and school officials are further coordinating with first responder police and fire departments.

And there will be more in-school counseling available for Hamilton students next school year.

But the most important changes are still to come, said Knapp.

These may include more armed officers in schools, bullet-proof film on school windows and classroom door barricades similar to those already in use in the Talawanda and Kings school districts.

MORE: ‘What are you waiting for?’, sheriff asks school boards

“All 13 buildings will undergo safety assessments with trained personnel,” he said in reference to school building evaluations done by local police and fire officials along with federal and Ohio Homeland Security personnel.

These security experts “know a lot more about what we can do as a school district to make our buildings safer,” said Knapp.

The new security measures will augment the current procedures already in place, many of which are staffed by armed Hamilton Police officers who patrol in the city schools.

“The Hamilton City School district will continue to share safety and security updates with our community as we improve our protocols and programs,” said Hamilton Schools Superintendent Larry Knapp.

MORE: Firearms stolen in Mason gun store break-in

“We appreciate the partnership that we have developed with the Hamilton City Police Department and look forward to working with them to keep our students, and staff safe each and every day we are in session,” said Knapp.

“You are going to see more coming out of this and more personnel devoted towards this,” he said.

The 2017-2018 school year ended for Hamilton students last week.

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Threat cancels Middletown High School’s last day of classes

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 5:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2018 @ 4:00 AM

Middletown High School modernized.

A threat of deadly violence will close Middletown High School today, prematurely ending the school year.

A student tip about a possibly deadly threat appeared serious enough to cancel classes for the high school on what was to be the last day of the school year, Middletown School officials told this news outlet Tuesday.

MORE: Sheriff to school boards on security: What are you waiting for?

Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. declined to reveal the nature of the threat but said Middletown Police, which provides officers in the city school district, was immediately notified and is now investigating the threat to determine who is responsible.

“The threat is specific enough that we believe the safest option for our students and staff is to close the high school (Wednesday),” Styles said.

The threat does not change tonight’s scheduled Middletown High School graduation ceremony at Barnitz Stadium, he said, adding that extra police protection will be in place for ceremony.

MORE: Middletown graduation moves after parents shut out of last year’s ceremony

All other Middletown schools will hold final day classes and activities today as planned.

“Our School Resource Police Officers (SRO) and staff reviewed videotapes and interviewed students and staff. The Butler County School Safety Director and Emergency Management Agency (EMA) are using their resources to scan social media. At Middletown City Schools, we take all threats seriously and we will press charges,” Styles said.

“We have been shown a sign of violence and we will act to keep our schools safe for all students and staff. We are encouraging parents to talk with their sons and daughters and report anything they might know (about the threat) to the Middletown Police Dispatch at 513-425-7700. That call will be kept confidential. As always, the safety and security of our students and staff is our number one priority,” he said.

“While we are saddened this is happening on the eve of our graduation celebration, we must keep our Middie family safe. We will have an increased police presence at graduation. Our focus tonight is celebrating our seniors and their successes,” Styles said.

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11-year-old Springboro boy accused of making gun threat on school bus

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 3:54 PM

            Judge Joe Kirby allowed 11-year-old Springboro student to go home after an alleged gun threat on a Springboro bus.STAFF / LAWRENCE BUDD
Judge Joe Kirby allowed 11-year-old Springboro student to go home after an alleged gun threat on a Springboro bus.STAFF / LAWRENCE BUDD

An 11-year-old Springboro student accused of threatening to use a gun on a school bus last Friday — the same day 10 people were fatally shot at a school in Texas — was released from detention on Tuesday.

MORE: Middletown High cancels last day after school threat

On Friday, the Clearcreek Twp. boy is alleged to have said he had a gun in his backpack while riding the bus home from Springboro Intermediate School and “asked if he should use it,” then “reached into his bag and used his fingers to simulate guns,” according to court records.

MORE: School shooting unlikely to bring gun restrictions in Texas

On Tuesday, he was charged in Warren County Juvenile Court with making false alarms and disorderly conduct, according to court records. He spent two hours in detention before being released to his parents, according to court officials.

MORE: Judge resorts to polygraph test in Warren County school threat cases

Judge Joe Kirby ordered a lawyer be appointed to represent the boy, who denied the allegations and was ordered to attend an educational and monitoring program at the detention center in Lebanon until school lets out in Springboro. Kirby also placed the boy on house arrest, pending a hearing on June 13.

It was the latest of about 15 school threat cases in Warren County since the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Florida and first since the school shooting on Friday at Sante Fe High School in Texas.

RELATED: Warren County boy, 11, accused of threatening to shoot up school

On Monday, an 11-year-old Kings Mills student admitted to an aggravated menacing charge in a case stemming from an April 24 incident in which the boy threatened “to shoot up the school ” at Columbia Intermediate School and make a teacher “his first target,” according to court records.

MORE: Warren County spike in school threat cases mirrors nation

Kirby barred the boy from having access to weapons and continued a no-contact order, but suspended a 45-day detention sentence, provided the boy complies with probation conditions.

The boy is to complete 20 hours of community service, comply with any rules set out by the school and pay $65 in court costs.

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Sheriff to school boards on security: What are you waiting for?

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 3:42 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 3:45 PM

Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones wants schools to improve security

Butler County’s top law officer continued his public pressure campaign against some local school boards Tuesday by calling for them to install metal detectors, reduce fire drills and add armed officers to schools.

Sheriff Richard Jones released a letter on social media — prompted in part by last week’s shooting massacre at Santa Fe High School in Texas — that he said had been sent to the publicly-elected school boards of all of Butler County’s school districts.

MORE: Butler County sheriff calls out local school boards on security measures

“What are you waiting for?” asked Jones in his letter to school officials.

“I find it disturbing every time I hear of another child shot or injured or another teacher killed or wounded; and that our own local schools are not doing enough to curb this from happening here in this county again,” wrote Jones.

“Take action before one of your schools is attacked and many of your students and teachers are taken away by an active shooter. You need to revise the fire alarms procedures in your schools. In many cases, the shooter has attended your school system and is aware that children are taught to exit the building immediately upon hearing the fire alarm. Setting off that fire alarm provides the shooter with more targets,” wrote Jones in reference to a deadly technique used by some school shooters.

Jones has praised some Butler County school districts for adding to their range of security measures and personnel employed in recent months, but said other districts are lagging.

MORE: Sheriff offers free gun training to teachers

“Your immediate action is required to stop schools from being a ‘soft target.’ I understand that a School Resource Officer or armed school employee may not stop the determined shooter from arriving — but they will be equipped to defend themselves and their students, until law enforcement can respond and end the situation,” he said.

In a Facebook video he posted Tuesday, Jones said “we need to look at metal detectors” for school buildings.

In the past, Jones has praised Lakota Schools, which is the largest district in the county.

Lakota’s 22 schools enroll 16,500 students in two townships — West Chester and Liberty.

Lakota officials recently added to their security measures an anonymous tip line phone number and website.

Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for Lakota, said, “we introduced the 24 hour SaferOH tip line in April. Parents, students and community members are able to call or text 844-SaferOH with anonymous tips about potential threats to student safety. The tip line is available through Lakota’s partnership with the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Public Safety.”

MORE: Lakota school leader looks back and ahead to next school year

Jones’ department patrols a handful of non-city school systems in Butler County. City schools, such as Hamilton, Middletown, Fairfield coordinate their school security through their local police departments.

He urged such districts to “please reach out to local law enforcement asking how you can make safety changes in your schools.”

Officials at the rural Edgewood Schools system recently announced they will have armed guards at each of the district’s five school buildings.

The school board for the similarly rural Madison Schools voted last month to allow staff who volunteer be trained and armed as part of a wider, extensive school safety training.

“The sheriff obviously has strong feelings about school safety, as does the Madison Local School District and we consider ourselves one of the leaders in our county in terms of the safety additions and changes we’ve made in the last two years,” said A.J. Huff, spokeswoman for the district.

In 2016 a Madison Middle School student used a handgun in school to injure three classmates.

“Moving forward we will continue to make safety and security an ongoing priority and no topic is ever off the table for discussion when considering making our schools more safe,” said Huff.

The latest move by Jones — who has grabbed national attention for offering free Conceal Carry Weapon (CCW) training to teachers and school staffers — is an escalation of an accountability campaign the veteran sheriff has tried for years to enforce on local school systems.

After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that left 26 students and staffers slain, Jones urged schools to hire retired police and military personnel trained in firearm use to work as substitute teachers in Butler County schools.

In February he expanded on the proposal but this time offered free CCW training to school staffers.

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