Nearly everything is on the table when it comes to improving the safety and security of Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools -- except arming teachers and requiring student uniforms.
During a town-hall meeting March 12 at Gahanna Middle School West, hundreds of parents and students questioned district officials and law enforcement about the safety of the district's 7,300 students and security of its 11 buildings.
Superintendent Steve Barrett's announcement that "we are not considering arming teachers" was met with applause from the audience.
Uniforms are also not being considered, Barrett said, but all other possibilities are "on the table."
"We're here tonight because, like you, we're concerned about keeping our schools, students and staff safe," Barrett said. "We agree with you that this is an issue that must be front and center for all of us."
Representatives from the city of Gahanna, Mifflin and Jefferson townships and the Franklin County Sheriff's Office took questions submitted from the audience. Many questions focused on recurring themes: arming teachers, adding more school resource officers, installing metal detectors and bulletproof glass, restricting access to buildings and addressing bullying and threats made on social media.
Barrett said he met with local first responders the day after the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, school shooting in which 17 people were killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Gahanna students planned to join their peers nationwide in a walkout March 14 to mark one month since the Florida shooting. Students who chose to participate would not be penalized, Barrett said.
Starting this week, students at Gahanna Lincoln High School will be restricted to two entrances in the morning and three exits at dismissal to limit access to the buildings from the outside.
"It was the district policy, but quite frankly, we've been lax about that," Barrett said. "Familiarity breeds complacency. What we need to change is the culture. It's really important that we change the complacency."
The district is also going to better enforce its policies for how people are admitted to its other 10 buildings.
"I hope folks understand and are patient if we ask questions that might seem redundant," Barrett said. "We need to make sure we're following those procedures, not just when there's attention on it."
Gahanna has three school resource officers from the Gahanna Division of Police -- two at the high school and one who acts as a floater.
Increasing the number of school resource officers is being considered but it is "not a simple fix," said interim police Chief Jeffrey Spence. "It requires a great deal of sustainability planning on behalf of the city."
Getting the more than 2,000 students to pass through metal detectors at the high school every day probably would not be feasible, officials said, although the district has not ruled it out.
"In an open-campus environment, it becomes problematic," Spence said. "It would require extending the school day, (and) I'm talking about a number of hours. At some point, it becomes unattainable."
Some parents questioned why the district has nine fire drills a year but only four other types of safety drills, such as active shooter or intruder drills, and that those often weren't practiced until March.
"We need to do them in cold weather," Barrett said. "What we want to get better at is practicing things like intruder, active shooters (drills). We have these plans in place, but we want to get better about practicing them.
"It's a tricky situation, especially with little kids. We don't want to scare them but we do need to practice these things," he said.
Other considerations might include requiring students to wear identification badges, changes to backpack policies, increasing surveillance, boosting mental health and bullying prevention services, and upgrading locks on classroom doors.
The district plans to work with Powell-based consulting firm Armada Ltd. to do a comprehensive overview of the its buildings and policies. The district hopes to use the report and input from its law enforcement partners to guide improvements, Barrett said.
"Nothing is too small. We take every threat seriously and we vet them," Barrett said. "The biggest message is if you see something, say something."