DARKE COUNTY — The February 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school shot and killed 17 people, has raised significant concerns throughout the country about school safety.
Closer to home, The Daily Advocate reached out to local school administrators and law enforcement officers, to learn how they are responding to possible threats to students and staffers in their communities.
Ansonia, Arcanum-Butler, Greenville, and Versailles each employs a School Resource Officer (SRO), provided by their local police departments. The Darke County Sheriff’s Office provides deputy SROs for Franklin-Monroe, Mississinawa Valley and Tri-Village Schools. Bradford Schools utilize a deputy provided by the Miami County Sheriff’s Office.
Ansonia Police Chief Frank Shapiro says his agency has a highly trained school resource officer who is on duty inside the school during school hours.
“Our training teaches us to go towards the sound of gunfire rather than self preservation/go away from gunfire,” he said. “Our school utilizes the fact that a highly trained officer is on campus and could deal with any situation that might arise. As the officer on duty during the day watch, I also would respond to a situation at the school. The two of us would attend to the problem, probably long before any additional responding units became available.”
“It certainly isn’t something we would look forward to,” he added. “However, this is why we train. The school has a safety plan and they practice their plan. Hopefully, we will never have to be faced with a similar situation as Parkland, Florida.”
Versailles Police Chief Mark Humphreys says his department has an SRO in the schools eight hours a day.
“The school doors are locked all day and the only way in is through the front door and you have to be let in the get inside,” he said. “There is talk about maybe putting another officer in the school. This is just an early stage right now.”
Versailles Superintendent Aaron Moran said, despite the Parkland incident, nothing has changed in regards to procedures or processes.
“We spoke about this two days afterwards with staff,” he said. “And we already had a meeting planned to discuss this issue. It’s something we talk about throughout the year.”
Moran said the district hopes to have a community forum in early- to mid-April to get feedback from the community on safety for Versailles students.
“I’ve met with parent or two who have certain ideas about how their kid stays safe,” he said. “They have valid concerns. Things like this can happen anywhere.”
As for having more armed people in the schools, such as teachers, Moran said, “We haven’t opened up or closed down opportunities for armed teachers.”
Nonetheless, Moran said safety at school is something that begins on a personal level.
“Teachers, everybody connected with school, take time getting to know the kids, making a positive impact,” he said. “We let them know they’re valued here and want the best for them.”
“The Arcanum-Butler School district regularly reviews safety policies and procedures and with the unfortunate tragedy in Parkland, the administration and Board of Education are engaging in further review of those policies and procedures,” said John Stephens, Arcanum-Butler Superintendent. “In recent years the district has taken steps to further strengthen school safety by partnering with the Arcanum Police Department to employ a full-time School Resource Officer. The SRO program adds a layer of safety with an armed police officer on school grounds throughout the school day.”
“Additionally, the school utilizes a single-point of entrance for visitors that must be buzzed in and has over 90 cameras throughout our facilities. The district also utilizes an emergency alarm system that provides quick access at the push of a button to alert local emergency personnel. District staff has participated in active shooter training provided by the Darke County Sheriff’s Office and annually reviews safety procedures and practices lock downs and evacuations with our students.”
Stephens says Arcanum-Butler is taking additional steps towards a safer educational environment.
“Prior to the most recent school shooting, the district received a quote to install 3M safety film that is applied to doors and windows to provide an additional layer of security. The district will take the next steps to finalize plans to install the film,” he explained. “The district will also be reviewing any additional training that we can provide to our staff to help us identify any mental health issues students may have and how to provide intervention for those students. We are also updating our radio system to the MARCS radios that will be used by county EMS.”
As for arming teachers and staff, Stephens said, “While the district has not taken any action to do so, we have discussed the impact of arming staff and adding metal detectors as options. Again, the district does not have plans currently to do so.”
Josh Sagester, Tri-Village Superintendent, says in addition to an SRO provided by the Sheriff’s Office, a retired sheriff’s deputy serves as a part-time Safety Coordinator, resulting in full-time coverage at the school.
“The Tri-Village Local School District administration holds weekly safety meetings to discuss any safety measures that need addressed,” he added. “Recent discussion has taken place with the Board of Education to review current safety procedures and any future security updates.”
Sagester said arming teachers and staff members has been discussed, but the district has “no plans to do so at this time.”
“We would like to reassure students, staff, parents and community members that school safety is the number one priority to the board of education and district administration,” he said. “The district plans and prepares for a myriad of potential situations and thoroughly investigates threats to the fullest.”
Sagester is also asking that students or parents made aware of threats should contact the school administration as soon as possible so the information may be vetted.
“The district will continue to work with law enforcement and mental health agencies as we do our best to keep our campus safe for all,” he said.
Doug Fries, Greenville Superintendent, released a statement to The Daily Advocate, which read, “The safety of our entire student body and staff is of [the] utmost importance to us at all times.” He pointed to the SROs employed at the high school and K-8 school, as well as ongoing training by staff to deal with a potentially dangerous situation.
As it regards arming teachers and staff, Fries said the issue had been broached.
“We have talked about it but decided to go with two full-time resource officers. We use our crises planning and Alice (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training if ever needed,” he said.
Greenville Police Chief Steve Strick added, “As far a school safety goes, our first line of defense it our two SROs at the school. We have a emergency plan in place and we conduct active threat training at least once a year.”
Darke County Chief Deputy Mark Whittaker says the SROs working at Mississinawa Valley, Tri-Village and Franklin-Monroe Schools work daily with the staffs of those schools.
“The primary function of the deputy is to provide for safety and security,” he said. “The deputy serves as a liaison between the school district and the Darke County Sheriff’s Office. We work together with each school district to provide them with the law enforcement resources they need.”
“One benefit to having a deputy in the school is the rapid accessibility of that deputy to the school. It has been a benefit in cases of threats or rumors of threats. The deputy and school staff can respond faster and work together to assess the problem and work toward a solution.”
Whittaker said while national media coverage of school shooting incidents always brings school security to the forefront, he says it is important to note this is a conversation that is always ongoing in Darke County.
“The Darke County Sheriff’s Office has worked with the majority of all the schools in Darke County over the years on school security,” he said. “We have provided many schools with active threat training in the form of lecture, presentation and practical training. The Darke County Sheriff’s Office works with each school on reviewing and updating their emergency action plan. Darke County deputies are present when lockdown and evacuation drills are conducted. The drills are discussed and critiqued with school administration and staff. These are examples of some of the activities we engage in with local school districts on a regular basis.”
Whittaker adds it is important to pay attention to what is occurring in other jurisdictions across the country.
“Most of the major threat and shooting incidents across the country are well documented and investigated,” he said. “I avoid media reports and speculation about these incidents until the official investigative report is released. When these reports are released, we review them to learn what actually occurred and what the responders encountered.”
“The purpose is to learn what went right and what went wrong and apply appropriate measures in our own jurisdiction,” he continued. “The ultimate goal is to learn how we can best prevent these incidents and be prepared should a threat occur.”
“School safety and security has always been and will continue to be a priority for your Darke County Sheriff’s Office.”