Safety choices hard for schools in wake of shooting

Some parents want armed staff; others say that’s too much.Experts: No way to fully guarantee kids’ safety.


5 most recent shootings at K-12 schools in Ohio

Feb. 29, 2016, Middletown: James Austin Hancock, 14, is arrested after allegedly shooting fellow students in the cafeteria at Madison Junior/Senior High. Two are hit by gunfire and two by shrapnel. All survive.

April 29, 2013, Cincinnati: At LaSalle High School, a student shoots himself in a classroom in front of fellow students in an attempted suicide. He survives.

February 27, 2012, Chardon: T.J. Lane, 17, kills three students and injures three more at Chardon High School. He is sentenced to life without parole.

October 10, 2007, Cleveland: Suspended student Asa Coon, 14, opens fire at SuccessTech Academy. Two teachers and two students are hurt before Coon kills himself.

November 7, 1994, Wickliffe: Keith Ledeger, 37, kills a custodian at Wickliffe Middle School and wounds four other adults. He is convicted and dies in prison.

Sources: FBI.gov, Ballotpedia, Everytownresearch.org

Local schools face tough choices on how much security is appropriate as last week’s shooting near Middletown brought a nationwide issue close to home for the first time.

There’s little consistency in how school security works in local communities — from teachers trained to use guns in Sidney and Edgewood, to a handful of districts where schools still don’t have secured entrances.

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“Schools do a good job of security now, with locks and cameras, and they’re really focused on safety, more than they ever were,” said Rhea Fraley, who taught in Middletown schools for 39 years. “But now that it hit close to home, it’s going to change everything.”

A review of multiple school shooting databases shows hundreds of incidents nationwide in recent decades, but none in the Miami Valley before Monday’s case during which four students were wounded at Madison Junior/Senior High.

The challenge for schools is how far to go on a continuum with tons of options. More locks? More cameras? More guards? More drills? Adding metal detectors? Arming school staff? There’s no way to make everyone happy, as there are parents who support and oppose each of those steps.

“It’s a tough spot for schools and it comes down to one word — reasonableness. What is reasonable to reduce risk?” said Ken Trump, a national school safety consultant. “The majority of parents want safe schools, want risks reduced, want genuine preparedness.

“But they also want that to be balanced with a climate supportive of students, not a prisonlike environment.”

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Student viewpoints

Even within a particular school, students can have a wide variety of opinions about their own safety and the role of the school. Interviews with students at Dunbar High School on Wednesday backed up Trump’s argument that schools need to look beyond just active shooter issues to the more common, day-to-day risks.

Jashin Gibson and Ahman Wallace said they generally feel safe in school. But Anthony Cole had concerns about fights, and Monyale Henderson said he worries about gang violence and thefts.

Students at Dunbar go through metal detectors when they arrive at school, and none of the students interviewed mentioned a concern about guns.

“There isn’t too much violence here at Dunbar, (and) we’ve got communication with our security guards as well,” said Wallace, a junior. But he did say he sometimes wonders if two security guards are enough, given the size of the building and the chance that a fight could involve a group of people.

Alison Hamant, a sophomore at Northmont, said her school “definitely feels safe,” citing tons of cameras and visits from police.

“You always kind of worry when you hear about other school shootings, but it’s not like it’s usually big on my mind,” Hamant said. “It’s something that floats through when something happens, especially close by.”

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Security pushed

The Dayton Daily News asked parents for their opinions on school safety, via Facebook, and a majority of respondents favored some type of increased measures, whether that meant arming school staff or adding metal detectors.

“It’s sad but I do think metal detectors would help with kids sneaking guns into school,” said Joey Gagel of Kettering. “As of right now, what is going to stop a student from sneaking one in in their bags? You don’t know the gun exists until it’s too late.”

The range of responses was incredibly broad, with one parent saying the risk was significantly overblown, and another wanting schools to take every possible safety step “no matter the cost.” A few parents said adding guns would increase risks, but more wanted school staff to be trained and armed to increase the speed of response in case of an emergency.

Springboro parent Donna Diehl, interviewed at a school event Wednesday night, said she’s generally satisfied with the measures her district already has in place.

“School safety is not something I worry about regularly,” she said. “I hear (my kids) talk about safety drills and what the plan is if there is an incident.”

Kettering Schools’ Director of Business Services Ken Lackey said his district went to secured building entrances in 2013, but has not considered metal detectors.

“There were some complaints from the community (in 2013) about the inconvenience getting in and out of the buildings,” Lackey said. “Those complaints faded fairly quickly and most people understood the changes and welcomed the more secure buildings.”

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State oversight

Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, urged districts to work with parents and local safety officials to review potential threats and all security options before settling on a plan that fits their community. He issued a warning as well.

“There’s just no sure-fire formula to say, well, if we do these things, we’ll be safe,” Asbury said.

The Ohio Department of Homeland Security reviews school safety plans, and spokesman Dustyn Fox said the agency speaks up if plans are lacking. He also encouraged parents to get involved in their school’s process.

That dovetails with messages Springboro and Oakwood schools sent to parents after this week’s shooting at Madison. Those schools reminded parents that good communication with their children is crucial to identifying problems early.

Trump said the best line of defense is a well-trained, highly alert staff and student body, so schools should not be lulled into complacency by locked doors, metal detectors and other security hardware.

He said schools can improve their readiness by adding wrinkles to their drills — blocking an exit that students would normally use, taking teachers out of the mix, or having a safety exercise at lunch or change of classes, so students have to think on their feet.

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Sidney’s guns

The most aggressive local school district is Sidney City Schools, which has an armed sheriff’s deputy in each of its seven schools for the entirety of each school day. Superintendent John Scheu said another 40 school employees have been trained by the sheriff’s department to react to an active shooter, calling the system a deterrent.

“They have access to a loaded handgun, which are located strategically throughout the building in biometric safes. The only way to open those are with the correct fingerprint,” Scheu said. “We don’t have staff members walking the halls with guns strapped to their waists. It’s not the wild, wild West. We think we’ve taken … the best layered approach to providing school security.”

Edgewood schools approved a policy in 2013 allowing certain administrators — if properly trained — to carry guns in schools. Reached this week, school officials would not talk about details of that system, but added that they also have school resource officers and continue to look at ways to boost security.

Scheu said Sidney has cameras and secured entrances, and holds regular student and staff training. He said the drills show school officials can shave minutes off the response time they’d get from police. He argued that good training is more valuable than metal detectors, which he called labor intensive and “not foolproof.”

“We put our resources, time and effort, plans and strategy into dealing with an active shooter once they get into the building,” he said. “Because if they want to get in the building, they’re going to get in despite all the barriers on the perimeter.”

Asbury said even if 99-plus percent of kids will never experience a shooting in their school, the incidents that do occur create tension and worry among students and staff. Trump said fighting that worry is important.

“You want to have a security mind-set where you’re aware and prepared, but not scared,” Trump said. “That’s easy to say and hard to do.”

Staff writer Eric Schwartzberg contributed to this report.

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