Olentangy Valley News

Violence in schools

New line of thinking needed to keep kids safe, say local leaders

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On a recent trip, Olentangy Local School District Superintendent Wade Lucas drove through Newtown, Conn., the site of the elementary school shooting that shook the nation in December.

The surroundings looked familiar, he said.

"The fact struck me that it could be Olentangy very, very easily," Lucas said. "I didn't see a whole lot of difference in what was there and what is here."

Olentangy school officials said that's why they're working hard to implement new safety procedures to keep local students safe.

The district hosted an open community forum on school safety last Thursday, March 7, featuring a panel that included Lucas, Olentangy Executive Director of Human Resources Gale Marsh, Delaware County Sheriff Russ Martin, all three of the district's school resource officers, and Delaware-Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Board Executive Director Steve Hedge.

Panel members gave short presentations, then took questions from parents and residents.

Martin, who will speak at a similar forum on gun violence and gun control Wednesday, March 20, in Delaware, talked about how the sheriff's office is working with the district to implement a new emergency response system called ALICE.

The system strays from the old model, which directs teachers and students to always go into "lockdown" when confronted by a school shooter, locking doors and waiting patiently for police to arrive.

Depending on the situation, students and staff could attempt to barricade classroom doors, flee the building, yell and throw objects to distract the shooter, or attack if harm is imminent, Martin said.

Schools could partner with nearby businesses so students have a safe place to run to, said school resource officer Matt Vogel.

"ALICE is about survival, from the first time the first shots are fired to the time law enforcement arrives on scene," he said.

The district's three resource officers recently underwent training in the system, and officials said they hope to have all staff trained by the end of next school year.

Lucas said the district is thinking about adding more resource officers but must carefully consider the cost to taxpayers. He said it's possible the district could have full-time officers at all five middle schools, in addition to all three high schools, in the future.

Marsh outlined the district's safety practices and described new procedures being implemented.

He said the district has a comprehensive safety plan that's updated regularly, and a full-time safety coordinator performs routine checks to make sure doors are locked and other rules are followed.

District officials recently began to perform criminal background checks for all parent volunteers.

The district also beefed up security checks when admitting visitors into school buildings, and it adopted a new online information system for first responders.

Hedge discussed how mental illness often plays a role in school shootings. He said parents should limit children's exposure to violent images in movies, TV and video games.

He encouraged parents to watch for the first signs of depression and seek help if necessary.

But don't think mental illness always leads to violent behavior, Hedge warned.

"A person with mental illness is no more prone to violence than anyone else, with the exception of when it's untreated or the individual is abusing drugs or alcohol," he said. "They more often tend to be victims rather than perpetrators."

During the Q&A session, one parent asked about the possibility of adding metal detectors at front entrances. School resource officer Lance Leonard said checkpoints aren't likely to deter a determined shooter.

Martin was noncommittal when asked about the possibility of arming teachers or stationing armed security in school buildings.

He said residents ultimately should make that decision and added any armed personnel should work closely with local law enforcement.

"We'll work with you, but the schools and the sheriff's department ought to be on the same page," he said.

He cautioned armed staff would lack the training of police officers and said it could lead to confusion when officers arrive at a building. Hiring security personnel also is expensive, he said.

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