Residents asked to stay off Riverside playground until 4:30 p.m.
Riverside Elementary School staff members are asking Dublin and Columbus residents to refrain from using the playground during school hours after an incident with a BB gun led to a brief lockdown last month.
Chuck Collier, district coordinator of safety and security, said around 2:30 p.m. Sept. 22, a teacher looked out a window and saw three young men who appeared to be playing with guns on the playground at 3260 Riverside Green Drive.
“She couldn’t tell if they were toys or not,” Collier said.
Collier said the teacher notified principal Jaclyn Palone, who called 911 and him.
Palone put the school in lockdown for 30 minutes, Collier said.
In a lockdown, classroom lights are turned off, windows are covered and doors are locked, he said. Classroom occupants can barricade the door if necessary, as well.
When he got to the school, Collier said, he was able to verify the weapon in question was an unloaded BB gun, and he canceled the Columbus Division of Police response to lessen any potential harm. Columbus police serve the school building because it is in the city's boundaries, he said.
The young men were attending classes remotely and didn’t realize that children were in the building and school was in session, he said.
“Like a lot of kids, they’re out playing,” he said.
Riverside had a similar incident at about 2:10 p.m. Sept. 25, when a teacher spotted a different set of youths playing with what was discovered to be an airsoft gun without a magazine, Collier said.
Those youths were two high school students who were not attending classes that day because they were on a hybrid schedule, he said.
This time, the school sheltered in place, a security level in which classes proceed as normal, but no one goes in and out of classrooms or the building, Collier said.
A Dublin Police Department school resource officer from another building responded to the scene, but Columbus police were not called that time, Collier said.
The district is working with Deb Papesh, an active community leader, to reach out to local neighborhood groups to talk to children about making smart decisions and keeping out of harm’s way, Collier said.
“You see all this chaos going on across the country,” he said.
Sometimes, police officers respond to toy gun calls “and bad things happen,” he said, referencing 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s death in 2014. He had a toy gun when he was shot by a Cleveland police officer.
“That’s certainly not where we want to end up as a district,” he said.
Collier said he believes the youths outside Riverside during both incidents were not able to see the larger picture because of their lack of life experience, Collier said.
“I don’t think these kids were doing anything malicious,” he said.
Palone said school personnel have observed a recent increase in the number of people who have been on the grounds since the beginning of the academic year.
Parents are doing the best they can during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, she said. Working parents might have children at home that could be unsupervised and want to get outside, she said.
But “people have been wonderful” about agreeing to come back after 4:30 p.m., Palone said.
Palone said the school playground is open to the public on weekday evenings after 4:30 p.m. and during weekends.