Officials: Nordonia Hills schools have plans to deal with violent incidents like Newtown shooting

by Eric Marotta | Editor Published:

Nordonia Hills -- School personnel are "as prepared as possible" to deal with tragic incidents such as those that occurred in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 and in Chardon earlier this year, according to Superintendent Joe Clark.

"Unfortunately, no district can fully prepare for such unthinkable acts as happened at Sandy Hook. However, the Nordonia School District is as prepared as possible," Clark wrote in Dec. 15 news release. "Our staff and students are consistently reviewing and practicing what to do in the case of a crisis ... In addition, we have been running intruder drills as part of our safety plan long before the state mandated we hold them."

In Newtown, Conn., according to news reports, a 20-year-old man wearing body armor allegedly broke into Sandy Hook Elementary school and shot and killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself.

In February, a 17-year-old student shot and killed three classmates in the Chardon High School cafeteria.

Clark said Nordonia Hills City Schools, with about 4,000 students, has been working for years with first responders in Macedonia, Sagamore Hills, Northfield Village, Boston Township, Northfield Center and Summit County to develop safety plans for all school buildings.

"Our police and fire departments have surveyed each and every school in our district for any potential threats and have held drills together as a team should a crisis ever occur," he said.

After hearing news of the Newtown shootings, Clark said he sent an email to all staff Dec. 14, then followed up with an email to building principals. The emails were to advise staff on how to deal with questions about the news. Clark said he toured all six buildings Dec. 17 and spoke with administrators in person.

"The message I'm getting from all the buildings is it was a pretty normal day," he said. "I think the most important thing is to continue to reassure students and staff that we're safe. Generally speaking, schools are still a safe place to be."

Clark said Nordonia Hills school students and staff conduct lockdown drills twice per year. During the drills, teachers and staff seal doors inside the building, which is what they would do in an emergency, to protect children from armed aggressors.

He said a new program, "ALICE", which stands for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate," is being implemented this year. The program goes beyond basic lockdown by providing additional training to school and security personnel.

Sagamore Hills Police Chief David Hayes said he coordinated a training session with an Akron Police Department on the Alice program with the school district's safety committee in October. The committee includes principals, administrators and area police chiefs and officers. Hayes said the program focuses on response to incidents prior to police arriving on the scene.

Hayes said Dec. 17 he spoke with Rushwood Principal Jacqueline O'Connor regarding security arrangements that morning, but said no extra precautions are being taken.

"I think that the schools are very proactive with regards to an incident like this," Hayes said.

Likewise, Northfield Village Police Chief Mark Wentz said Dec. 17 he discussed security arrangements with Lee Eaton Principal Josh Hayes that morning.

Wentz said the main topic was whether the school's security camera system could be integrated with an intersection monitoring system the village is planning to implement in coming months. Still in the planning stages, the system would include cameras placed at various intersections and other places in the village.

In the meantime, Wentz said "we're on heightened alert because of what happened ... but we're not doing anything special at this point."

Macedonia police were on increased alert Dec. 17, according to police Lt. Vince Yakopovich.

"We've stepped up patrols, but at this point we're doing what we've always done," he said.

District security plans also include computerized floor plans of each school available electronically to police in patrol cars, as well as color coded locator codes to identify areas within the schools.

The district also has a communication plan in place to inform the public and community in the event of emergencies.

And communication is key to addressing other threats, Clark said.

"Another layer of safety includes teaching our children, as early as elementary school, to be responsible citizens and to report potential dangers to school employees. We have adopted an aggressive anti-bullying policy and have structured programs in each building to teach students how to treat others with kindness and how to respond to bullying," Clark said.

"Unfortunately, our children are not always given the best role models for proper behavior. We can see examples of vitriolic speech daily on television, in political campaigns, on talk radio, on Internet blogs and in other social media," Clark added.

Whether ultimate security can be achieved remains to be seen.

"What we're doing at airports since 9-11 is the same thing Israel has been dealing with for years," said Yakopovich. "I think our schools are safe. Is it as safe as it could be -- no. We could put armed guards at every door, but is that what America wants?"

Editor's note: See this article at www.the-news-leader.com for links to resources, including advice for parents on how to talk to children about news stories regarding horrific tragedies.

E-mail: emarotta@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9433

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