Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Area educators equip to prevent, react to possible tragedy

Throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, the bookshelves in principals' offices are groaning from the weight of new comprehensive safety plans that are brimming with instructions for responding to every conceivable threat - including a child with a gun.

The key, however, is prevention, school officials said.

In Toledo Public Schools, a recent grant is paying for a new 24-hour hotline to report threats, drugs, and other dangers.

In Anthony Wayne Schools, locked doors and identification badges have replaced a once open, rural environment.

“We're taking any kind of reference to Columbine [High School], to guns, shooting, bombs, very seriously in all the schools,” said Dr. Adrienne Noel, director of pupil placement, the office that enforces Toledo Public Schools' discipline code.

Since the Columbine shootings, schools across the country have reacted swiftly, and in many cases, harshly, to threats of violence. In northwest Ohio:

  • Seven Bowsher High School students were expelled from school in December for provoking an incident in which there were rumors of a “hit list.”

  • A Sylvania Northview High School student was sentenced to 90 days in jail in September, 1999, for posting an Internet bomb threat against the two Sylvania high schools. Nicholas Arvanitis, then 18, was placed on community control for four years for the felony charges of inducing panic and possession of criminal tools - the computer he used to forward the threat.

  • Scott High School requires teachers to lock their doors during class periods, enabling school officials to detect persons who don't belong in the building. The safety measure, however, sparked a protest by students last month who said it was excessive.

    An Ohio law passed after the Columbine High School tragedy in April, 1999, required every school district to produce a comprehensive safety plan. Toledo Public Schools' safety plan was adopted in February, 2000, but over the criticism of board member Terry Glazer, who said the plan didn't do enough to identify troubled students who might open fire with a gun.

    Mr. Glazer said yesterday some of his concerns were addressed later by the school district administration.

    “The concern I have is, do we identify high risk kids? And I couldn't say for sure that we do,” Mr. Glazer said.

    District spokeswoman Jane Bruss noted that Toledo recently received a $2.7 million federal safe school grant. The grant has allowed for the hiring of school social workers and mental health workers, whose job is to deal with at-risk youth referred by teachers and principals.

    As safety measures, she cited the stationing of police officers in most junior and senior high schools. The district's security officers make a number of random checks for weapons, and “we always follow up on threats.”

    She said when the schools do learn of a problem, the report usually is from a student.

    In Wood County, all school officials and teachers have copies of a handbook that outlines how to handle problems, ranging from a tornado to a suspicious school intruder.

    Rick Van Mooy, superintendent in North Baltimore, said school leaders try to prevent serious situations by talking with students about the penalties of taking weapons to school.

    “Kids are made aware of those penalties,” he said. “I will say - knock on wood - we haven't had a firearm or a knife brought into school since I've been here [for seven years].”

    In the Maumee district, if a crisis happens, a team from the school building and a district team would handle the situation with assistance from fire and police personnel, said Ken Aerni, assistant superintendent.

    “A plan will really be able to work if we all work together,” he said. “We feel we have done pretty much what we can do.”

    In the Anthony Wayne district, the guidance and administrative staff developed a crisis-response plan about six years ago. The plan is reviewed at least annually, said Dr. Cynthia Beck, assistant superintendent.

    Anthony Wayne has taken several steps to help prevent emergency situations. Security cameras have been installed to monitor the interiors of school buildings as well as activity in parking lots. Staff members wear photo IDs. Most doors are locked in the buildings during the school day, and classrooms are equipped with telephones.

    School safety changed dramatically in Monroe County after the Columbine High School shootings.

    Before Columbine, threats against a school, its staff, or its students were often handled by educators. Now threats are viewed as a law enforcement issue.

    “I think Columbine was what brought it to the forefront, how explosive it really could be and how extensive the amount of damage that could be inflicted in a very short period of time,” Monroe County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield said.

    Every school in the county formulated a model crisis response plan that detailed how school personnel would respond to safety threats.

    Last week, the Bedford board of education spent nearly $22,000 to purchase a portable radio system that will allow school officials to communicate with police, fire departments, and dispatchers in the county.

    “There's a lot that's involved other than just showing up and treating the victims,” Bedford Township Fire Chief John Bofia said. “God, I just hope we never have anything like this here.”

    Staff writers Kim Bates, Janet Romaker, Jason Willliams, and Larry Vellequette contributed to this report.

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