Worthington Schools Superintendent Trent Bowers said the district's "see something, say something" policy was essential Oct. 5 when a handgun was brought onto Thomas Worthington High School property.
The gun was found in one 16-year-old boy's backpack and another 16-year-old boy is suspected to have known about it, according to the Worthington Division of Police. No one was reported as harmed.
"I'm proud that our students have (good) relationships with the adults in our schools and feel comfortable talking with them," Bowers said in an Oct. 5 statement. "I also appreciate the immediate response of our school administration and the Worthington police."
The first boy was charged with a felony and two misdemeanors but the second boy has not been charged as of Oct. 10, said Sgt. Jim Moran.
"That aspect is still under investigation," Moran said.
Vicki Gnezda, the district's director of communications, said officials could not speak about individual students and whether they were suspended or in school after such an incident.
However, she said, according to the student handbook, charges of that nature usually would result in a student being removed from school and eventually being expelled.
Details of the incident have been minimal, but Bowers elaborated Oct. 6 in his blog at wcsdistrict.wordpress.com.
"Yesterday morning, our high school principal received a tip that a student may have a weapon in school," he wrote. "We take every tip seriously and they are immediately investigated.
"After hearing this information, the principal went to the classroom where the student was in class, peacefully removed him from the classroom and simply asked him about the accusation. The student admitted to having the weapon and he was turned over to the Worthington police.
"In this case, there was no disruption of school, no event that happened in the school, we have no knowledge of any threat nor knowledge of any plan of action. We immediately communicated with all TWHS families."
Worthington police officers responded at 11 a.m. to the school at 300 W. Dublin-Granville Road, according to an Oct. 5 release from Lt. Jennifer Wuertz.
Officers recovered a loaded .380-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun in the student's backpack, the release said. The student was arrested without incident and will be charged with possession of a deadly weapon in a school safety zone, a fifth-degree felony, as well as carrying a concealed weapon and inducing panic, both first-degree misdemeanors.
The release also said officers were investigating a report that a second student might have been in possession of the same weapon earlier in the day.
Bowers confirmed the second student's involvement in his blog.
"We have learned that a second TWHS student saw the gun at the beginning of the school day, handled the gun, took a picture of himself with the gun and posted it to social media," he wrote. "Obviously, this was a very poor choice."
Bowers said in his blog that district leaders "have worked diligently to prepare our schools, our staff members and even our students should we ever experience a senseless act." That preparation includes secure entrances, special training and drills, principals equipped with radios and a direct channel to a Worthington police dispatcher and a hotline (866-871-0926) for anonymous tips about potential acts of violence.
"School safety in Worthington is a three-pronged approach," he wrote. "Secure buildings and strong plans with accompanying training are important but we recognize that many events are triggered by mental-health issues or by feelings of isolation.
"Our third prong of school safety is attempting to help our students deal with their mental-health needs. In Worthington, we employ three full-time mental-health specialists (who) work with our students, as well as a partnership for therapeutic counseling services where we refer students and families to North Community Counseling.
"Most importantly, our staff members are committed to providing school cultures where every student knows they have a trusted adult in their school that cares about them and believes in them. 'See something, say something,' is more than a slogan. Our students and staff are comfortable talking with one another and it's students who will most likely be best positioned to alert our staff of potential safety concerns."
Thomas Worthington principal Pete Scully said in an Oct. 5 district email to the community that keeping "students safe is our first priority."
"We regret a student made the choice to bring a gun to school, but we do not believe that choice reflects our outstanding student body," Scully wrote in the email. "As a school community, we are looking forward to a safe and enjoyable homecoming weekend ...
"Every child should feel safe and comfortable at school. If your child has concerns or feels unsafe, please contact any member of the TWHS staff to discuss. If your child was affected by today's event or is struggling to cope with any situation, please do not hesitate to contact a school counselor, administrator, teacher or any trusted adult."