Mahoning Valley educators say you can plan for — but never be 100 percent prepared for — mass tragedy in a school building.
“How do you defend against a dad who comes in or something like that? You can’t know everything that’s going to happen. You can just be careful like we do,” said Austintown schools Superintendent Vince Colaluca.
Local schools officials explained their security precautions in the aftermath Friday of the shootings of staff members and elementary students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where several people are dead, including many children. State police said the shooter committed suicide in the school.
Mathews schools in Vienna Township do not have metal detectors or police on the premises that might help prevent a tragedy. “But the bottom line is, if you have someone really intent, there is not much you can do about it. The killings in Connecticut are sick and sad,” said Mathews Superintendent Lewis Lowery.
Lowery said that every school in the state is required to have lockdown stay-in-place drills each school year before December, which Mathews has done, and plans to do again in the spring.
Parents of Poland students received automated phone calls Friday afternoon that explained current security measures and plans to enhance them after Friday’s shooting in Connecticut.
“... Many security measurers are already in place that provide for the safety [of children]. ... The wheels are already in motion to review those procedures,” said interim Superintendent Don Dailey.
Dailey said he already has spoken to police chiefs in the village and township and plans to meet with several security companies early next week to get recommendations on how to improve security.
“The idea was to reassure [parents] that we’re paying attention, and we do practice things. We practice the lockdown drills and we have a security and safety emergency disaster plan, but we’re going to see if we can improve that,” Dailey said.
Sgt. Chuck Hillman, school resource officer for Boardman, said all of the district’s seven buildings have emergency plans in place, as required by the state. “They are required to practice that emergency lockdown prior to Dec. 1,” he said.
The buildings also have a buzzer system, and most have a reception area where visitors must sign in, Hillman said.
“You can’t plan for everything, and certainly we as law enforcement recognize that. You can’t plan for every single circumstance, but you try to have a plan and hope you will never have to deal with it,” he said.
Rod Foley, Youngstown police chief, said the local schools prepare with lockdown training, where they report to police in a crisis situation and police are ready to respond.
“We train for active shooters at a school where we don’t have to wait for a SWAT team or anything. We can get our guys and go in after the bad guy,” he said.
Youngstown City Schools take additional steps to secure the schools with the use of metal detectors and portable radios.
Not every school has police officers present, and not every school has metal detectors, but mobile officers will patrol the schools periodically during the day. Metal detectors also are taken from school to school on a periodic basis just to make sure schools are safe, said William Morvay, chief of security.
Should a breach of security happen, Morvay said the heads of the schools have been trained to follow procedures in keeping schools safe. “Administrators will do lockdowns of schools and safety services will be notified,” said Morvay. “Everything is contingent upon training.”
Morvay said continual adjustments are always part of the process. “Especially after incidents like this, it makes us all the more aware of how diligent we need to be.”
Colaluca said multiple security measures are in place to try to avoid unauthorized people in the building.
“We have the security where we can see who’s coming and we have to buzz people in before they can get in,” Colaluca said. “If ... we think they have a weapon, we are able to contact police that patrol the schools.”
The school district has at least two police officers at Austintown Fitch High School, and who patrol the campus. At the middle school, an Austintown detective is available to assist, and the elementaries have a Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer during the day.
Canfield Middle School just installed a new set of doors in the summer to eliminate people coming into the school without first checking in at the office.
For the high school, security systems are scheduled to be put in place at the end of January 2013, so that all visitors must be buzzed in before entering, said business manager Rich Archer. Lockdown procedures are practiced quarterly, he said, and are in place at all schools.
Superintendent Alex Geordan has also met with a safety committee to address security in the schools. “We’ve got to be as conscientious as we can,” Archer said.
A measure that was funded by the city and the township, a school resource officer from the Canfield Police Department has an office in the high school.
In 2007, when the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center was redesigned, administrators wanted to ensure that access to the building was restricted.
Roan Craig, superintendent, said visitors enter through just one door, where they have access to only the main office. From there, they must be buzzed into the portion of the school where students are located. A side door provides access to arriving students each morning, where school officials monitor who’s coming and going. At 8 a.m., the door is shut and locked.
“We were simply responding to the changes that go on in the world,” Roan said.
Things are no different at the Trumbull County Career and Technical Center, said Superintendent Wayne McClain.
Doors to the building are not restricted or locked, but a strict protocol is in place in the event of an emergency. The school employs a resource officer that oversees and participates in compliance. Protocol there has also been approved by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
“Quite frankly I’m reluctant to discuss the specifics of our plans for fear of who might read the article,” McClain said. “But in a general sense, we have lockdown procedures, emergency meeting locations and our policy is regularly reviewed.”
Construction has been under way this year to make the entrance of Springfield High School as secure as possible.
“The new entrance will have an area where you cannot enter the high school unless you go through the office. There will be no other way to get into the building,” said Anthony Albanese, assistant high school principal.
Albanese said the entrance will be similar to what is standard in newly constructed school buildings.
“You just don’t know who’s coming in your building. You never know who will enter at any time. It prevents people from entering the building that shouldn’t be. ... It adds an extra measure of security in the day-to-day operations,” he said. “This will be completed very soon.”
Since 2010, Springfield’s teachers, staff and students have been trained by school resource officer Sgt. Ken Goist in ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Information, Counter and Evacuation. ALICE emphasizes students evacuating a building if there’s an active shooter situation and they have enough information to escape safely.
“It’s alerting people to where the active threat is and if possible to evacuate and not be a sitting duck, so to speak,” Albanese said.
The old lockdown procedure has students turn out the lights, lock the door and hide.
“It doesn’t make sense to me for a human being to go into a building and take the lives of children, of anybody — but especially elementary-age children. It’s just a tragedy,” Albanese said.
South Range Superintendent Dennis Dunham echoed those sentiments.
“There’s an immense sorrow and you always put yourself in that building principal’s shoes, superintendent’s shoes and the parents’ shoes of what happened in Connecticut. I think that’s very natural, to think how would you handle it. Out of every tragedy comes more information and ways to combat these types of senseless acts,” Dunham said.
South Range’s K-12 Complex on state Route 46 was built with secure entrances, Dunham said. All doors are locked and visitors who enter must go through an office.
“Doors are locked, the school resource officer is in the building. We’re taking as many steps as possible to try to be proactive and be prepared for events like what we just saw and what happened. You’re never 100 percent prepared but I think we’re taking the necessary steps,” Dunham said.
Over the last eight to nine months, South Range staff and students have been trained in ALICE, just like Springfield.
Lowellville and campbell
Rocco Nero, Lowellville schools superintendent, said the district works with the village police on three practice lockdowns a year. “We review our plans all the time,” he said.
A shooting like Connecticut’s, he noted, “could happen anywhere.”
Campbell Superintendent Thomas Robey said district officials reviewed security Friday afternoon and will tighten it up some for Monday. A side door to the board of education offices that is usually open will be locked, he said.
Other doors at Campbell school buildings are locked. They can be opened with keys or fobs, and visitors must be buzzed in.
Robey said school resource officers have constant communication available with the police and fire departments.
Joe Nohra, who is taking over as superintendent at Struthers schools, said the schools have crisis plans in place. The schools also had their mandatory lockdown at the end of November.
Nohra said the schools will review how to react in a crisis, adding that children will no longer be “sitting ducks.”
“We need to try to save as many lives in a crisis as possible,” he said.
Districts strengthened security after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. In the school shooting, two senior students named Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and one teacher. They also injured 21 further students, with three other people being injured while attempting to escape the school. The pair then committed suicide.
“A lot of the measurers [originally in place] were as a reaction to Columbine and you may recall the Amish school in the country where a gunman came in. It just tells you it can happen anywhere at any time,” Dunham said.
Lowery, in Mathews schools, said the district also has had school evacuation drills in conjunction with Fowler and Vienna safety forces.
When a lockdown is over, there are procedures in place to move students out of the buildings. “We have to keep track of everyone and make sure they are picked up be the appropriate person,” Lowery said.
There is not a security policeman in Mathews schools, but a Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer from the Vienna Police Department is in and out of the buildings through the day.
Since Columbine the Columbiana Exempted Village Schools have locked doors and made visitors buzz in to gain entry, said Superintendent Don Mook.
“When I went to school 20 plus years ago, no schools locked their doors. Students could come in late or parents could pick up their children for a doctor’s appointment,” he said.
Now, schools do a good job of keeping people out who have no business being in the school, Mook said.
“Most of these situations are caused by students who are supposed to be in the school,” he said.
Schools keep their doors locked, but every school has windows on its first floor, Mook said. In addition districts are always at risk that someone who is supposed to be in the school, such as a parent, could bring in something dangerous.
“My heart goes out of the people in Connecticut,” Mook said.