County schools reaffirm safety commitment

OSU shooting resonates

By David J. Coehrs -

Many schools in the county, including Park Elementary School in Swanton, require buzzing in of visitors.

Many schools in the county, including Park Elementary School in Swanton, require buzzing in of visitors.

In light of the attack Monday on Ohio State University students by one of their own, local school superintendents said their districts take every precaution to prevent similar situations.

But some stop short of saying those precautions are fail-safe.

OSU student Abdul Razak Ali Artan mowed through a crowd of students on campus with his car Monday morning, then jumped from the vehicle and stabbed other students with a butcher’s knife. Eleven people were taken to area hospitals with non-life threatening injuries.

Artan was shot dead by OSU Police Officer Alan Horujko, who responded to the attacks and warned the student to stop.

Due to the university’s relative proximity, the disturbing incident resonated within Fulton County school districts.

Archbold Area Schools Superintendent Aaron Rex said the district has put safeguards in place against attacks on the buildings. All exterior doors are locked at all times during the school day, leaving visitors to be buzzed directly into the school offices. The schools also practice evacuations and lock downs in the event of an intruder.

Additionally, mechanisms have been attached to each classroom door hinge that can be activated to lock the doors from the inside.

Rex said twice each school year the buildings experience a scenario during school hours that tests both student and staff reactions. Notice of an impending scenario is given in advance, but no one knows exactly when it will occur.

“They know there’s going to be a practice. They know it’s coming up, but they don’t know specifically what it’s going to be,” Rex said. “We want to put them through the scenario so they have to think for themselves.”

The school district adheres to procedures offered by the nationally-recognized ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) Training Institute. The training itself is conducted by the Defiance County Sheriff’s Office, although the Archbold Police Department participates and offers suggestions during scenarios.

The training has come into play once – during an incident in 2015 in which a community member living a couple of blocks away barricaded himself in his home.

“We thought it was close enough to the school that we had a lock down,” Rex said. “Things like that can come up, and they’re good learning experiences.”

Teachers and staff members carrying firearms has never been discussed.

“It hasn’t been something people pushed for. There’s positives and negatives to everything that you do,” he said.

And while the school district has had no instances of unknown or suspicious people trying to gain entry into a school building, Rex doesn’t rule out a situation. Nor does he deny that a tenacious intruder might get past the schools’ defenses.

“You see all the time that things can still happen. You do the best you can to try to prevent it. Three’s always going to be situations that are possibilities,” he said.

The Ohio Revised Code and the Ohio Administrative Code require schools to provide emergency management plans, plus a related review and annual test. They also mandate the state Board of Education to a three-year reevaluation of the plans.

Swanton Local Schools also use the ALICE system. Superintendent Jeff Schlade said specific training has been held over recent years, and yearly safety drills in the school buildings include input from first responders.

The school district has added buzz-in systems and entryway cameras to the buildings, and has collaborated with the Swanton Police Department to share a school resource officer at no cost to the district or taxpayers.

The schools don’t have a policy permitting concealed weapons.

Pettisville Local Schools Superintendent Steve Switzer spent a day with faculty and staff members being trained by local first responders and officials. The school district supports “Run, hide, fight” a protocol the Department of Homeland Security promotes in cases of active shooters, and conducts lock down exercises three times annually. And it has purchased school emergency software from NaviGate Prepared of New Philadelphia, Ohio.

“Decisions have to be made on the spot, on the spur of the moment,” Switzer said.

The district’s schools have no buzz-in system for visitors, but they can enter only through the main entrances. Teachers and staff carrying firearms has never been discussed.

“There’s always vulnerabilities, no matter what you do,” the superintendent said. “You hope you’re as prepared as you can be.”

He remains vague about the district’s defense plans, saying it’s not a public document. Switzer does acknowledge it includes a complete visual of the campus so that local law enforcement can look at every room on the plan to devise a strategy.

He said developing a plan for potentially dangerous intrusions is the most frustrating aspect of his career.

“There are so many scenarios. Everyone is a potential perpetrator,” including parents, students, and others associated with the school district, Switzer said. “Everyone is an enemy in a thing like this. You need to be vigilant. You take the precautions you can.”

He said he can’t assure parents the school district’s building is completely secure because “in reality there are risks out there.”

Wauseon schools continue to improve readiness for crisis situations, Superintendent Larry Brown said. The school district also uses NaviGate Prepared software, allowing staff members access to plans from a secure computer app on their mobile phones.

During the past summer, upgraded cameras with more exterior coverage were installed in each district building. In October, all staff members participated in ALICE training with Fulton County Deputy Sergeant Matt Smithmyer and other law enforcement personnel.

Topics in round-robin discussions held have included “Drop/Cover/Hold,” “Lock down,” “Reverse Evacuations,” “Bomb Threats,” “Explosions,” “Active Shooter,” and “Hostages.” The school district also works with first responders and conducts active shooter safety drills for students and staff members that can change in frequency and nature to keep them prepared based on their location.

And among other safety precautions, nearly 200 temporary locking devices have been installed on interior doors throughout the buildings.

“Based on our safety training, we understand that lock down is not always the best answer in all dangerous school situations, but we feel that we have provided an excellent tool for a quick lock down when this situation would arise in our schools,” a district news release said.

The district has also compiled safety backpacks for each classroom that include ponchos, duct tape, whistles, basic first aid kits, water, blood-borne pathogen kits, trash bags, emergency flip-charts, building plans, site plans, and items specific to classroom needs.

There is no current policy regarding concealed carry of firearms by staff.

Brown said unknown people enter the school district’s buildings on a daily basis, “and for that reason we have many procedural safeguards in place to protect our staff and students.”

Many schools in the county, including Park Elementary School in Swanton, require buzzing in of visitors. schools in the county, including Park Elementary School in Swanton, require buzzing in of visitors.
OSU shooting resonates

By David J. Coehrs

David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.

David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.