School shooting fears weigh heavily on every parent’s mind, and Ohio officials issued new guidance June 20 on how educators and students can be prepared for the worst.
A 10-video series called “Active Shooter Response: An Educator’s Guide” has been released by the Ohio attorney general’s office.
“Schools should be safe, nurturing places for children to learn and grow. Ensuring that students and teachers are protected during the school day is an important responsibility for all Ohio communities,” said Attorney General Mike DeWine.
The short videos urge local educators to work with police to assess school buildings for vulnerabilities.
Already, districts are required to have emergency management plans filed with the state department of education.
But the Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy are asking for those plans to be beefed up.
The BCI has six drones that are used primarily to document crime scenes and help find missing persons. It’s offering to lend them out for free aerial photographs of school buildings to supplement school safety plans.
Local police need to have building schematics and photos of the inside and outside of each school available in an emergency, the state recommends.
First-responders should know where students will gather during a lockdown, evacuation points, and meeting points at each school.
The new guidance tells school leaders to scrap the use of codes — code red, code black, code orange, and so on — during emergencies. Both in trainings and real emergencies, the code system has broken down and left room for panic and doubt.
In a lockdown, teachers should get students into classrooms, lock windows, close shades, turn off the lights, and get students into a position where they can’t be spotted from outside. Barricade doorways, silence cell phones, and don’t talk.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t answer or open the door for anyone unless you’re sure it’s law enforcement. Ignore fire alarms, since they may be used as false flags to flush students out of hiding spots, the videos advise.
If you’re locked down in a room with others, designate one person to call 911. Be prepared to quickly tell dispatchers how many shooters there are, where they are, what they look like, what weapons they have, where you are, and whether anyone is hurt.
Plans need to be flexible; if hiding isn’t an option, do what you can to safely get out of the building. Schools with just one lockdown procedure are more likely to fail in a crisis.
There is no one-size-fits-all evacuation plan. Many schools have started partial evacuations — if there’s a gunman in the west wing, the east wing is instructed to bolt.
When evacuating, the state suggests having students hold hands or grab the shirt of the person ahead in line to make sure no one is left behind.
When police arrive, follow all their directions and don’t grab at them. Their job is to stop the attacker first, not help the wounded or trapped. The sooner the gunman is stopped, the fewer people will be injured.
But most importantly, the videos stress practice, practice, practice. They urge students and teachers, police and firefighters to train together so the procedures are clear during a time of stress and fear.
Just keep in mind that such trainings may be training the shooter as well, the state videos warn.
Schools also need to have plans in place to reunite children and parents after the crisis is over, the videos say. That includes deciding how, when, and where to tell family about students who have been wounded or killed.
And finally, educators need to have a plan for emotional healing after a tragedy. Victims will need psychological care not just immediately but in the long-term.
Three shootings have occurred at Ohio schools in the past two years.
A 14-year-old was sentenced to six years in juvenile detention after shooting his fellow students at Madison Junior and Senior High in February 2016. In October of that year, two 16-year-olds shot Linden-McKinley STEM Academy students in a release-time drive-by in Columbus. Another student was shot at West Liberty-Salem high School in January 2017.
Most recently, a 13-year-old Stark County boy shot and killed himself with a semiautomatic rifle at Jackson Middle School. Police found notes detailing the child’s intention to carry out an eight-step school shooting; he apparently changed his mind about using the 80 rounds he’d taken to school.
But perhaps the most notorious Ohio school shooting — and the closest to us — happened in February 2012, when 17-year-old T.J. Lane killed three of his classmates at Chardon High School.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.