Lockdowns now a central part of school security
Unsubstantiated reports of a gunman in the area prompted a lockdown at Westerville's Whittier Elementary Dec. 14 as news of shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Conn., shocked the country.
Lockdowns are a central part of school security, utilized to keep students safe when a threat is found in the area. State law requires lockdown drills at all Ohio schools at least annually.
"Typically, classroom learning goes on as usual during a lockdown, with the exception of any outside activity. They're usually called for anytime there is a public safety issue (police or fire activity) in the immediate area," Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools information officer Michael Staughter said. "Drills are conducted at least three times a year, two of which must involve students."
While there are state laws that regulate lockdowns, districts do differ on some things.
Hilliard City Schools has three different levels of lockdowns that range from locking all exterior doors and keeping students inside to locking external and internal doors with students secured in the classroom with the lights out.
"Lockdowns can be triggered by a number of different scenarios," said district community relations coordinator Amanda Morris. "Sometimes the local police or other authoritative group requests a lockdown as they are following up on an issue in the area. Other times we place either the entire school or a portion of the school into some type of lockdown to address a student or staff member who needs prompt medical attention. While situations vary, our overall focus is always about providing a safe, yet welcoming learning environment for students and staff."
Eight schools in the Olentangy Local School District were locked down Jan. 23 when the county sheriff relayed a report to district officials about a man who was wanted on multiple warrants being pursued in the Powell area.
A few Dublin City School buildings went into lockdown mode in the fall when robberies were reported at nearby banks. Upper Arlington Schools reported a similar situation.
"While our buildings practice lockdown drills every year, our last 'non drill lockdown' occurred during school hours about a year ago at the high school," UA's Chris Potts, executive director of business reported. "The police were in pursuit of (an) armed suspect and called and told (the) high school to lock down."
Like lockdown drills, emergency response plans are also required from each district and must be filed with the state.
South-Western City Schools has detailed districtwide and building-level plans filed with the state, and received grants to help formulate them.
"Over the past four years, we have been fortunate enough to receive two back-to-back Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grants from the federal government," district spokeswoman Sandy Nekoloff said. "One of the focus points of the grants was to develop and implement district-wide and individual building Emergency Response Plans."
At Marysville Schools, buildings have flips charts for teachers that address situations such as lockdown procedures, weapons, hostage situations, unauthorized visits, abduction, medical emergencies, tornado warnings and fire alarms.
The plans are on file with the Marysville Police Department, Union County Sheriff's office and state auditor's office.
Earlier this month the Marysville Police Department and Union County Sheriff's Department also began assessments of buildings in the district.
"We just want to get more feedback and see if there are changes we can make. With stretched dollars, some of our cameras and things of that nature of have not been kept up to date," Superintendent Diane Mankins said. "We are looking for feedback from the police department to see what can be improved and maybe save money working through them."
Pickerington schools have individual safety plans for each school that include policies and procedures for staff.
"Each building has a plan that is developed around the district safety plan," said interim Assistant Superintendent Bob Blackburn.
Some districts also have taken additional steps toward safety. With money from a 2008 bond issue, Dublin City Schools secured entrances for all 19 buildings that created one single entrance into the school office. Other doors to the schools are kept locked.
Superintendent David Axner said a safety committee recommended the secure entrances.
"To this date everything recommended has been installed," he said, adding that security additions also included cameras.
All Olentangy Local elementary schools are locked during school hours and visitors must page the office through an intercom to get in.
A badge system at New Albany-Plain Local schools was implemented Jan. 7 that means middle and high school students must wear a badge that unlocks doors to the cafeteria, middle and high schools.
Westerville City Schools have gone one step further, training employees to look for red flags for violent behavior, said Westerville Health and Safety Service Director Debbie Meissner.
"We have people trained to understand what threat assessment looks like," Meissner said. "People understand that they cannot sit on the sidelines, so if they have a concern, they need to take it to someone who can make a difference."