By Kantele Franko
COLUMBUS — A state instructor training educators to respond in school shooting situations said Thursday that planning a response, practicing in advance and using whatever resources are available in such emergencies are keys to saving lives.
Participants in the first of five regional training events around Ohio watched a sometimes graphic and emotional slideshow presentation about warning signs missed and lessons learned in previous cases, including the Columbine and Virginia Tech tragedies and the deadly Chardon shooting last February that spurred the state to plan this training for educators.
It ended with a tribute to victims of the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, an event that spurred a surge in interest in the state’s training.
More than 200 teachers, administrators and law enforcement officers registered for Thursday’s sessions in Columbus. Instructor James Burke of the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy told them to be aggressive about reporting troubling student behavior, practicing for an active shooter situation and making sure school staff and law enforcement have a similar understanding about how a response would work.
“It’s sad that we have to be here today, but it’s also the reality of the world we live in, and I think you need to be prepared for it, and our ultimate goal is to protect kids,” said Green Local Schools superintendent Michael Nutter. He attended with an administrator from each school in his Akron-area district and planned to take some of Burke’s suggestions back to his district’s safety committee.
Those tips ranged from simple preparedness steps, such as marking classroom numbers in windows to guide emergency responders, to ways to ensure students and staff aren’t stationary targets if there’s an active shooter.
That could mean leaving through a back door or window, Burke said, or locking a room and silently hiding while preparing to fight back with whatever distractions can be found — bookcase barricades, coffee cup projectiles, fire extinguishers, anything at all.
“We have to try to slow them down,” he said. “We have to make it difficult.”
Response plans vary from district to district, but a widespread lockdown isn’t necessarily the best choice, he said.