Schools: Shooting too close to home

The shooting of two students at Madison Junior/Senior High School early Monday morning hit uncomfortably close to home for many local school districts and parents.

Some local school officials said they are taking steps to ensure students and teachers are protected and feel safe after 14-year-old James Austin Hancock allegedly opened fire in the Madison high school cafeteria, striking two students and injuring two others.

Highly publicized school rampages in other states and communities have led local districts to reevaluate and beef up their security measures and practices.

But this incident was especially troubling for some because it occurred just down the road, raising the specter that local students and educators are vulnerable to violent acts.

“A situation that close to home makes us all realize that nowhere or no one can have the mindset of ‘this will never happen here’ anymore,” said Marlon Howard, director of operations with Trotwood-Madison City Schools.

Some districts said they will pay close attention to the Madison school shooting to see if there are any security lessons to be learned and actions they should take.

On Monday morning, Hancock allegedly brought a loaded handgun to Madison high school and opened fire in the cafeteria, according to a complaint filed in court.

Hancock is accused of shooting two students.

Two others were struck by shrapnel or injured while fleeing the cafeteria during the commotion.

Hancock faces six criminal charges, including attempted murder, felonious assault and making terroristic threats.

Local school officials reacted to the shooting with shock and steadfast pledges to be prepared in the event their students or teachers ever face violence or other threats.

Some districts have or will send letters home to parents to reassure them that safety is a top priority.

Teachers, principals and other staff with Lakota Local Schools come into work every day knowing their school could be the next target of violence, Karen Mantia, the district’s superintendent wrote in an email to parents.

Mantia said it was especially difficult to see school violence play out at a nearby community.

But she said Lakota schools — located in Liberty and West Chester Twps. — continue to work to create the safest possible environment for students and educators.

Staff undergo regular safety drills and training as part of their professional development, and the district has three times as many officers patrolling its schools than it did two years ago, she said.

Local parents undoubtedly were alarmed by the shooting in Madison Twp., and local school districts have a responsibility to know how to respond if these types of emergencies ever arise, said Howard, with the Trotwood-Madison school district.

Trotwood-Madison has been proactive and recently hosted an active-shooter training to teach staff and students how to respond in those tense situations, he said.

Building principals also run safety drills monthly to teach students and staff proper lock-down and evacuation procedures, and the district on Monday reminded principals of the importance of those trainings, Howard said.

The Madison incident sadly underscores the fact that this kind of tragedy can happen anywhere and school districts must be prepared, said Kari Basson, community relations coordinator for the Kettering City School District.

Whenever a violent event like this happens, the Kettering City Schools looks at what happened, how it happened and what the response was like for learning purposes, she said.

“It would be a disservice to the students who were injured and to the entire Madison school family not to pay attention to what happened yesterday and to try to learn from it so that we are all assured of doing everything in our power to keep all of our students safe when they are at school,” she said.

Kettering City Schools recently developed a 10-year capital improvement plan, and the district intends to invest in enhancing its security systems, Basson said.

The district plans to increase the number of security cameras inside and outside its buildings and upgrade school entry points to better monitor visitors.

Some local district officials said the proximity of the latest school shooting does not change the importance of having security programs.

“Xenia Community Schools must plan to the best of our abilities for an event like this no matter if it happens right next door or a thousand miles away,” said Superintendent Denny Morrison.

Morrison said he has confidence in the district’s security measures and procedures.

But he noted that the district continues to research best safety practices and will heed lessons learned from any tragic events.

Some districts said they made significant security upgrades after the horrific tragedies in Newtown, Conn., and other U.S. communities.

School shootings nationwide occur with frightening regularity, and the Dayton Public Schools security team goes through routine training and makes a point to invest in new technology and facility upgrades to make the classrooms safe, said Adil Baguirov, the president of the Dayton Board of Education.

“But there’s only so much you can do,” he said.

Centerville’s school safety plans underwent significant changes before the start of the school year, when the district hired a company to help retool its processes, which included ensuring first-responders receive crucial and timely information during emergencies, said Superintendent Tom Henderson.

Even so, Henderson said he “addressed the situation” of the Madison school shootings during a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday morning with district administrators and staff.

“We spend part of that meeting talking about school safety, code of conduct, the students’ appropriate behavior – especially the principals,” he said.

Staff Writers Nick Blizzard and Lauren Stephenson contributed to this report.

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