OH Schools Review Safety Plans Follow CT Tragedy

Following Friday's deadly school shooting, Ohio school districts look for ways to make buildings safer.
Following Friday's deadly school shooting, Ohio school districts look for ways to make buildings safer.

As Columbus-area students returned to class Monday following America’s second-deadliest school shooting Friday, many school district leaders already had reached out to their parents. WOSU reports on how local schools have responded in the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy.

“Making Sense of the Senseless”: that’s the heading Gahanna-Jefferson Schools Superintendent Francis Scruci chose for his message to parents on Sunday.

In the letter, Scruci assured parents the district is doing everything it can to keep students safe and to help them deal with effects of the Connecticut shooting.
The tragedy that took the lives of 20 first graders and six school staff members is difficult for most to comprehend.

“Educators across the country are scratching their heads in dismay of what happened,” Gahanna-Jefferson Schools spokesman Michael Straughter said. “And then comes the natural question: What more can we do? How can we prevent these things from happening? And there’s just no real simple answer.”

In Connecticut, a “buzzer” system had recently been implemented at Sandy Hook Elementary. But the shooter breached it.

But school districts like Gahanna-Jefferson use them along with other security devices such as cameras as a way to monitor buildings.

New Albany Plain-Local Schools spokesman Patrick Gallaway said their district is considering adding a buzzer system to its security tools.

“But, again, one of the most troubling things that we’ve all learned that didn’t even help in that situation,” Gallaway said. “So we just have to be really cautious about what is best for our students and community.”

Since the Columbine school shooting in 1999, lockdown drills have become as routine as fire drills. All the districts we talked to perform them regularly.

“There are some things that you can’t, and Friday emphasizes that, that you can’t get too comfortable [with]. You don’t know when something’s going to happen,” Straughter said.

Schools are limited as to what they can do to combat a crisis situation. One thing they can do is keep up with new training procedures.

New Albany’s Gallaway said staff members already were scheduled to receive ALICE training on Tuesday. ALICE stands for Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate. It’s a different approach to the traditional lockdown. ALICE teaches participants they have the option to escape a dangerous situation, instead of just staying locked in the classroom.

Gahanna-Jefferson participates in ALICE. But Upper Arlington Schools do not. Chris Potts, who speaks for the district, said teachers and students are taught the traditional lockdown.

“Securing your classroom and working with your students to keep them safe. The ALICE training is a little more reactive in nature, as I understand it, and it’s not something that we have pursued yet. But I do know there are a good number of school districts that do it,” Potts said.

In addition to reviewing security protocols, counselors have been made available to students at all the schools we contacted. New Albany’s Gallaway said teachers also received some talking points to address the tragedy.

“And that’s age appropriate. Our K-1 building you’re going to discuss this very differently with those students than you would a high school student for example,” Gallaway said. “But we made sure we had messaging out to our staff and our community over the weekend to kind of, here’s how you begin this conversation with your kids.”

Upper Arlington teachers will not generate conversations about the Sandy Hook shooting. Potts said some parents may be reluctant to have their children know about what happened.

“We made a decision not to necessarily bring it up in class, but if children have question or if students have questions, is provide brief and simple information with the reassurance of safety of our building,” Potts said. “It’s really getting back to making our students and family feel assured of their safety in our building.”

Earlier this year, Gahanna-Jefferson officials say students helped defuse a potential threat when officials were alerted to disturbing social media posts and a video created by high school junior Spencer Peasrson. Police charged Pearson with inducing panic, and he was expelled from school.

Straughter said the district stands by its decision to err on the side of caution.

Like other districts we talked to, Gahanna-Jefferson plans to review its crisis procedure with local police. Straughter underscores what he considers the best safety measure.

“If you see something and you have a concern, bring it to our attention. Tell somebody. Talk to someone. Tell the police. Tell your principal. Tell somebody. That has always been and will always be the best security measure you can put in place,” he stressed.