April 16, 2014

Elyria
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Schools do drills to prepare for worst-case scenarios

ELYRIA — Gone are the days when happy schoolchildren come home to tell parents about the extra time they got to spend outside because of a fire drill.

Now, parents hear stories of students being told to silently stand in the corner of a classroom away from doors and windows while teachers shut off lights and lock classroom doors. Depending on the school, it may be called a quiet drill or lockdown drill. It doesn’t matter the name, the goal is the same.

Schools are now preparing students for matters much worse than fire and smoke-filled hallways. Students also have to know what to do if an armed intruder invades the sanctity of their school.

“We are thinking about it every day,” said Dawn McCreedy, Elyria’s director of pupil services. “It’s a sad fact of life, but we are taking measures to keep kids safe on a daily basis.”

McCreedy’s words ring home on a day like Friday, when a devastating shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut left 20 young students dead as well as six adults, and prompted school leaders to review their own crisis plans.

It is the second worst mass shooting in U.S. history, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 when 33 people died. The tragedy eclipses the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in which 13 died and 24 were injured.

If any good comes from such tragedies, it’s the fact that school officials in other districts use the information that can be gleaned to keep kids in their own schools safer.

“We have fire drills, lockdown drills, evacuation drills — you name it,” Lorain Superintendent Tom Tucker said. “We are doing everything we can, and the purpose is to have everyone safe.”

Tucker would not go into detail about the specific crisis plans the district uses, but he said that when the threat is from the area surrounding a school — an armed criminal running loose in the neighborhood — one sort of lockdown drill includes locking all doors so no one can enter or exit a building.

When the security of the building is compromised, a more intensified lockdown includes locking all classroom doors and keeping everyone in place.

“No one moves, no one goes into the halls, and no one leaves the building,” he said.

McCreedy said crisis plans are always changing and every new scenario is an opportunity to say, “What more could have been done?”

“Columbine and Virginia Tech taught us that sitting and waiting is not always the best option,” McCreedy said. “Kids died hiding under their desks. We want our staff to be able to analyze situations and know it’s not always a good thing to hide. Sometimes it’s best to evaluate the situation and make an escape if you can.”

McCreedy said in Elyria, school officials often meet with local law enforcement to come up with scenario plans. The information is then sent to teachers, who in the prior shootings have been the ones who have had to make the gut-wrenching, split-second decisions.

While the debate over what could be done is likely to continue, what parents can do today is focus on their children, said Oberlin Schools Superintendent John Schroth. They cannot process tragedy like adults and may also wonder if their schools are safe.

“The actions of a deranged individual cannot be explained or justified,” Schroth said in a emailed message to parents. “Please monitor your children closely for signs of distress and encourage those who come forward with comments and concerns to talk about their feelings.”

Schroth said counselors will be available Monday for those students who need to talk.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.