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Published: Saturday, 12/15/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Schools in area reconsider security after incident in Connecticut

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA AND MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS
Avis Williams of Toledo, waiting outside Sherman Elementary to pick up her 5-year-old grandchild, says she doesn't worry too much about  the child's safety at school. But, she added, ‘You can't control people.' Avis Williams of Toledo, waiting outside Sherman Elementary to pick up her 5-year-old grandchild, says she doesn't worry too much about the child's safety at school. But, she added, ‘You can't control people.'
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Avis Williams knows her granddaughter is safe during the day at Sherman Elementary, but the slayings of 26 people, including 20 children, at a Connecticut school Friday morning reminded her of the potential anywhere for that kind of violence, regardless of security measures.

“I don’t really question the safety here, but you can’t control people,” Ms. Williams said as she arrived at the North Toledo school to pick up her 5-year-old granddaughter after class Friday.

Still thinking about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Ms. Williams acknowledged that schools could be fortified like prisons with extreme security measures and armed guards, but she doesn’t think that’s the answer.

“You don’t want your kids to feel like that is how life should be,” she said.

Just as they did after other mass shootings — such as the 1999 Columbine High School massacre or the July 20 murders inside a Aurora, Colo., movie theater — school officials throughout the nation Friday reviewed their own safety plans.

Washington Local Superintendent Patrick Hickey said the district’s buildings have 24-hour security and Toledo Police officers, but those measures won’t eliminate the threat of a gunman entering a school.

Gun control raised

“The common denominator is the easy access to guns,” Mr. Hickey said. “It is something this country needs to take a look at. The common denominator is people who are not well, or sick, who are killing people on street corners, places of worship, theaters, or schools.”

He is hoping the Connecticut massacre will spark a debate on gun control.

“Regardless of my politics, innocent children are being killed because of easy access to handguns, and in Aurora, it was assault weapons,” he said.

Toledo Public Schools buildings are designed to keep intruders out and teachers are trained to lock down the school in the event of an incident, said Jim Gault, chief academic officer.

“You feel for those families of students who have been killed as well as those who have survived because it will be haunting them for the remainders of their lives,” Mr. Gault said.

As the district built schools over the past decade, they were designed so visitors could not access the school except through the main office, and then only after talking to staffers via intercom and their pictures being captured by surveillance cameras.

“They are also limited to one point of entry,” said Bill Weyandt, head of security for the 23,500-student school system. “We’ve restricted more of their movements coming in and we don’t have every door open. When class begins, they are all locked and the only way to enter is the front door and they have to be buzzed in.”

Every door at Sherman was locked Friday afternoon before a flood of students poured out for the 3:15 p.m. dismissal.

John Krajeski, principal of McTigue Elementary in Toledo, said the reality of the Connecticut massacre had not set in for his students. Once it does, he expects empathy rather than fear.

“I think it makes everyone more aware,” Mr. Krajeski said. “It is more reality now. ... People take things more seriously.”

Michael Zalar, Oregon City Schools superintendent, said the buildings are locked and his staff gets regular training on how to react if an intruder does get inside a school.

“We have regular, scheduled lockdown drills and safety drills to make sure we are as prepared as we can be,” Mr. Zalar said.

Additionally, Oregon Police have real-time access to surveillance cameras installed inside all of the district school buildings.

The massacre prompted many to pray for the victims.

Prayers of anguish

Bishop Leonard Blair of the Toledo Catholic Diocese expressed his anguish in a statement:

“Our hearts go out to all the many people who are grieving as a result of this terrible tragedy,” he said. “We pray for the dead and for those wounded in body or spirit as a result of what happened and we pray for our country and an end to sins against human life.”

Jeff Gagle, superintendent of academics at Toledo Christian Schools, said students would participate Monday in prayer services for the dead and wounded.

The building that houses elementary and intermediate students in Port Clinton Schools was constructed with a system that restricts outsiders from entering to access students and teachers, Superintendent Patrick Adkins said.

A vestibule at the entrances allows people to enter the building to get out of the elements and once inside, they pass through electronically controlled doors into school offices. The school was equipped with interior and exterior surveillance cameras that can be controlled and monitored by local police and teachers, Mr. Adkins said. Staff hold lockdown drills, he added.

‘Nothing prepares you’

“But nothing prepares you for something like what happened today,” he said. “We try to provide as safe of an environment as possible and make sure we have a crisis plan in place.”

Superintendent David Drewyor said Mason Consolidated Schools' only elementary building has a single entrance that is unlocked during school hours, but visitors must walk past the office in view of building secretaries.

However, Mr. Drewyor admitted that someone who might be armed and intends to shoot a weapon would not be stopped by the current setup.

He said it is virtually impossible to stop a shooting in a 50-year-old building such as Mason Elementary compared to newer structures built with entrances that direct visitors into school offices and a second set of doors that children use to enter the building that subsequently are locked.

Mr. Drewyor said administrators, teachers, and staff at Mason Consolidated have undergone training to prepare them for a shooting such as the tragic one in Connecticut. Two years ago, all Monroe County schools participated in a mock shooting drill at Mason Consolidated in which a man portraying a grandfather armed with a gun entered the school.

Kenneth Jones, interim superintendent of Wauseon Schools, said his buildings regularly practice safety procedures that include crisis situations. The goal of the programs is to protect student and staff safety, he said in an email.

“Wauseon Exempted Village School District believes that the first step in addressing school crime and violence is to assess the extent and nature of the problem, and then plan and implement strategies that promote school safety and minimize the likelihood of school crime and violence. The district has a comprehensive school safety plan which includes the requirement to screen all visitors who enter our locked buildings,” he said.

Following the order of President Obama concerning federal buildings, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell on Friday ordered all flags on city property to be flown at half staff until Tuesday.

Local candle vigil set

At 5 p.m. today, a candle vigil for the victims will be held at the Toledo Children’s Memorial at the intersection of Jackman Road and Eleanor Avenue. Members of the public are invited to attend and bring flowers or teddy bears to leave at the memorial.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), also released a statement Friday.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the parents of the children who were murdered today in Connecticut,” Miss Kaptur said.

“Words cannot convey the pain and heartbreak caused by this horrific incident. Our entire nation is in shock, staggered again by an act of unspeakable brutality. At this moment, we must offer our support to the survivors and the community in their time of need.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-309-0939.

 



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