August 20, 2014

Elyria
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Law enforcement makes its presence apparent at Lorain County schools

Chelsea Miller, Rona Proudfoot and Steve Fogarty, The Chronicle-Telegram

Parents dropping their kids off for school Monday may have noticed a stronger police presence than usual as the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office and other police agencies stepped up patrols around schools.

Sheriff’s Capt. Jim Drozdowski said Sheriff Phil Stammitti ordered an increased presence in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting on Friday. In an email sent to his shift leaders, Stammitti asked them to “make their presence visible” in areas under the department’s jurisdiction — including schools in the Elyria, Columbia, Midview and Firelands districts.

“We try to do this normally, but today the sheriff just wanted to increase emphasis,” Drozdowski said, adding that parents should see the increased presence throughout the next few days.

Police were also on hand at Elyria Schools, but Lt. Chris Costantino said it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

“There’s always a police presence around the schools,” he said. “We don’t always advertise it.”

Parents are understandably on the edge following Friday’s tragedy at the Connecticut elementary school, in which 20 students and six adults were killed by a 20-year-old who eventually turned the gun on himself, Costantino acknowledged.

“We always encourage our officers to have a strong presence around the schools,” Costantino said. “Hopefully, with the police presence there (Monday), it made people a little more comfortable.”

Costantino said his own daughter goes to Elyria Schools and he had no reluctance sending her to school Monday. He praised the relationship between Elyria Schools and the Police Department.

His advice to parents — and anyone else — is to be alert.

“(We ask that) if you see something, you hear something, someone’s acting odd or someone’s making threats, you notify us and the school immediately,” he said.

North Ridgeville Schools will see an increased police presence through the end of the week when students begin their 10-day Christmas vacation.

“This will be at the high school, middle school and throughout buildings,” Superintendent Jim Powell said Monday.

The district was at the center of an investigation after a number of threatening online postings were found that allege future violence in the district. The threats were first made in November, and the district has since increased security measures.

North Ridgeville police are continuing to investigate, but so far police officials have said the threats appear to be rumors that could not be substantiated.

Powell, who visited every school in the district Monday, said everyone has an increased awareness after Friday’s shooting, as well as a sense of sadness.

“To walk through and see those kids, and people asking how this could happen, how could someone do that to such a young, beautiful child,” Powell said.

Student absences were not out of the normal range Monday, Powell said, although some parents were understandably concerned. “I had some parents comment, ‘It was so hard to send my kid away from me this morning,’ ” Powell said.

Powell said one father sat down with him Monday morning to discuss the situation.

The man was looking for reassurance before sending his children to school. The man had children who attend kindergarten, as well as elementary and middle school classes.

“He told me he didn’t feel like sending his kids to school this week,” Powell said.

Powell and Bill Greene, the district’s executive director of business services, talked with the father for some time before the man announced his children would be in class.

“I can completely understand those feelings,” Powell said. “We feel the same way about these kids. We want to protect and take care of them. We want to make sure they have a bright future.”

Districts such as North Ridgeville Schools and Lorain Schools have been continually reviewing their safety plans at the recommendations of police. The school districts also employ the use of a school resource officer, a police officer who works at the school.

Increasing safety measures is a start, said Dr. Ann Bauer, chair of Cleveland State University’s Counseling Administration department. Bauer, who has expertise in school shootings and crisis intervention, said an important part of preventing these tragedies from occurring is also looking at the emotional health of the students.

“It’s up to the teachers, principals and school counselors to watch for students who are in emotional pain,” she said.

Bauer said that although not every depressed student will bring a gun to school, studies show a majority of school shooters have attempted or contemplated suicide.

Bauer played a key role in helping students heal after a school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., in March 1998. She worked as a grief counselor after the March 1998 incident in which two students, an 11-year-old and 13-year-old boy, pulled the fire alarm at the school and ran out into the woods, where they lay in wait and shot at students and teachers as they left the building. Four students and one teacher were killed, and 10 others were injured.

Bauer said Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary brought up old feelings she experienced in 1998. She said students at Chardon High School likely will have a hard time hearing about the Connecticut incident as they are nearing the anniversary of a shooting that killed three students there.

“It’s like you have an old war wound,” she said. “You carry that story with you — the sights and sounds.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com, Rona Proudfoot at 329-7124 or rproudfoot@chroniclet.com and Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.