Bexley leaders reacted swiftly to the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 students and six adults were gunned down by an assailant after he killed his mother. He later took his own life.
The Bexley City School District released the following statement after word of the massacre spread across the country:
"Members of the Bexley school community mourn the victims of the December 14, 2012, school shooting in Newtown, Conn.," Superintendent Michael Johnson said. "As we have in the past, we will take this opportunity to review our district's own safety procedures. We remind our community that the safety of students and staff members is of paramount importance in our school district. Each of our school buildings has conducted a lockdown drill this fall, as required by state law, and all schools have completed ALICE training (alert, lock down, inform, counter, evacuate) within the past couple of months."
Cassingham Elementary School principal Jeannine Hetzler shared the following words with her students Monday morning via their morning newscast:
"As we start this week before winter break, I want all of you to think about what an amazing community you live in; how you are nurtured, loved and challenged by the people around you; and how important it is for you to do the same for your schoolmates, friends, neighbors, family, teachers ... for your community.
"You are exceptionally caring, knowledgeable people. I see it every day. You do, too.
"It was on display in Friday's celebration of the ways you live the learner profile, and the incredible demonstrations of learning and kindness that you share across this building. We are a special school," Hetzler said.
Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler also issued a statement pledging the city's full cooperation with the school district and other local institutions related to public safety.
"We are all deeply saddened to learn about the tragic school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.," Kessler said. "The Bexley Police Department and the educational institutions within the city of Bexley approach the issue of safety in our schools deliberately and carefully. We have a long history of working together on safety policies and in training together to protect our children and our community against the unforeseen and the unthinkable. We will be watching closely and taking to heart any opportunity to learn from these tragic events and to better perfect our cooperative approach to ensuring safe schools and safe neighborhoods."
Bexley Police Chief Larry Rinehart said his department has worked with local schools on safety plans since 1999.
"Since the Columbine tragedy, the Bexley Police Department and the Bexley schools have worked together to periodically review and update our response plan to these types incidents," Rinehart said. "My observation is that the Bexley schools are very diligent in their efforts to maintain a secure learning environment in their schools. I think they do a very good job."
In terms of safety, Rinehart said assigning a full-time officer to each school building in Bexley isn't economically feasible.
"Even if all parties believed it necessary to assign a full-time police officer to every school building, the cost would be prohibitive," he said. "Full-time, professional, trained police officers are expensive. I am a supporter of school resource officer agreements where the city and the school district share the cost of a police officer who is assigned to a specific school building during the school year. Such relationships are proving their worth around the country. But again, they are expensive."
Rinehart said Bexley police are specifically trained to deal with situations similar to Newtown.
"Since the Columbine shootings, the entire law enforcement community has stepped up this type training as it pertains to just about all tactical training, beginning with the basic police academy," he said. "Members of the Bexley Police Department participate in periodic, specific training on how to most effectively respond to this type incident."
Rinehart said he understands the renewed concern about school safety.
"Because of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, it is understandable that everyone's attention is on the safety and security of our public schools," he said. "But rest assured that your law enforcement community focuses its daily concern on every facility where people gather. Yes, this starts with our public schools, but also includes our private schools, our universities and our places of worship.
"In other words, we appreciate the increased focus on school safety in the wake of the horrible tragedy in Connecticut, but rest assured, your police officers are considering and training on their response to this type attack, be it in a public school, private school, university, or place of worship, every day of the year."