In the wake of a mass shooting that left 17 dead last week at a Florida high school, Worthington Schools is one of the many districts examining and reviewing their procedures to determine how they can prevent a similar tragedy.
Superintendent Trent Bowers said the district has "worked diligently to prepare our schools, our staff members and even our students" for such a situation.
In a message sent late last week to the school board, Bowers described the district's safety plan as a "three-pronged approach" of secure buildings, planning and training and students' mental-health needs.
The Florida incident reaffirmed the importance of the three-pronged approach, he said.
"As we struggle to make sense of another senseless act of violence in a public school, we're left to ask unanswerable questions such as 'Why?' and 'What can be done that will keep our students safe?' " he said.
To secure the buildings, Bowers said, all buildings have been "modified to include secure entrances and to make sure the perimeter of every school is locked throughout the student day" and every school office has a "panic button" that directly connects to police dispatchers.
Some of those changes, he said, came from a security consultant's recommendation in 2013.
Meanwhile, teachers have been trained in a "run-hide-fight" system that establishes how they should respond to an active shooter, he said. Building principals carry mobile radios that can be switched to a 911 channel, and each school has established "rally points" for students to head toward in an emergency.
For students' mental-health needs, Bowers said, the district has three full-time mental-health specialists and a partnership for therapeutic counseling services with North Community Counseling Centers.
"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," he said. " '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."
Bowers credited the "see something, say something" policy with the rapid confiscation of a loaded handgun after it was brought onto Thomas Worthington High School property last October. He said a principal received a tip that a student might have had a weapon in school and the tip was investigated immediately.
The handgun was found in one 16-year-old boy's backpack and another 16-year-old boy is accused of having known about it, according to the Worthington Division of Police. Both were charged in juvenile court.
According to Sgt. Jim Moran, Dante Owusu-Best brought the weapon onto school grounds Oct. 5 and was charged with possession of a deadly weapon in a school zone, a fifth-degree felony, and carrying a concealed weapon, a fourth-degree felony.
Owusu-Best also was charged with inducing panic, a first-degree misdemeanor, Moran said.
Two weeks after the incident, police charged the second boy, Alec Deem, with a fifth-degree felony count of possession of a deadly weapon in a school zone, alleging that he was aware of the weapon and had it in his possession at one point during the day.
Bowers said no procedures were altered after the incident. He said district leaders believe "it was confirmation that the procedures in place worked correctly."
The district also works closely with law enforcement, Bowers said.
The three-pronged safety plan is updated each year and is on file with the state and local law-enforcement agencies, he said. Those plans were updated and sent out in December.
Bowers also said Assistant Superintendent Randy Banks is "in charge of safety for the school district" and "meets regularly with Homeland Security and local law enforcement to review safety and security recommendations."
One security feature Worthington Schools does not have is school resource officers, but cost is not part of that consideration, Bowers said.
"Worthington has never supported an officer and that is less a financial decision than a philosophical one in that police officers in school often criminalize behavior and put students in the juvenile-justice system that used to just suffer school consequences," he said. "(Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School) did have more than one SRO from what I understand. That said, if something would improve school safety, it's a conversation we would be open to having again in Worthington."
On the afternoon of Feb. 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot more than 30 people – including teachers and students – at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, using an AR-15-style rifle. He initially was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.