Learning from tragedy

A flag at the North Royalton Middle School flies at half mast for the victims of the Florida shooting.

NORTH ROYALTON – When parents send their children off to school, they don’t want to think about the possibility of an active shooter rushing into that building and opening fire.

But last week, parents in Florida lived this nightmare when on Feb. 14 alleged suspect Nikolas Cruz, 19, entered his former high school and opened fire, shooting more than two dozen students and staff. Seventeen people lost their lives.

Before this tragedy, an active shooter may not have crossed parents’ minds, but local school officials say it is a very real threat and something they must prepare for.

North Royalton Superintendent Greg Gurka said school buildings have locked entrances with camera systems; visitors are screened before being buzzed in by the main office staff; the majority of teachers keep their classrooms locked at all times; police and SWAT have access to the schools’ surveillance video at all times; teachers have communication capabilities with the main office from their classrooms; radios, with direct contact with the North Royalton Police, are carried in every building; safety and security plans at all buildings are submitted to the state for review; at any given time, there are three police officers in district buildings; and training drills are practiced with students and staff regularly.

One positive about the bond passage last year, Gurka said, is that the new buildings and renovations will include new safe and secure entrances with additional camera systems and door intervention systems that enable entire wings to be closed off.

“The way the high school will be redesigned, we’ll be able to close off the humanities wing, the science wing, for example. Same with the new elementary. The middle school has fire doors now that can be closed and locked,” Gurka said.

To the west, Strongsville City Schools officials say they have discussed, reviewed and analyzed safety plans that are in place for their effectiveness.

“On a consistent basis, we review our safety plans. This is a time when we’ll be looking at all aspects of how we can increase the safety of our students and our staff,” said Strongsville Superintendent Cameron Ryba.

When the new Strongsville Middle School was built, it was done with security at the forefront, including secure entrances, high-tech camera systems and more. Improvements at the high school have included many of the same features, the most visible of which is the new two-door entrance that requires that every person who enters goes through the front office.

At the five elementary schools in Strongsville, the doors are secured, cameras monitor the entire properties, and all visitors are screened. The district is in the process of adding more improvements to those buildings with money allocated as such from the $81 million bond fund.

North Royalton School Resources Police Officer Jon Karl is stationed in the high school but visits the other buildings frequently. He, teachers and staff all make a point to develop relationships with students so that they feel welcome and comfortable to approach these adults with concerns or problems. All buildings employ an anti-bullying program, Olweus, teaching students to be upstanders rather than bystanders, to take an active role in squashing bullying. Negative behaviors have negative consequences but schools put a higher emphasis on positive consequences for positive behaviors.

Karl reviews case studies and research frequently to learn from tragedy and incorporate information into training and drills.

“What does emerge in investigations and unfortunately is unfolding in Florida are things that people do know ahead of time that may be an indicator and might be a chance for intervention. Hopefully by watching behavior, troubled behavior and trying to find out what’s going on, intervention can hopefully stop something like this from occurring,” Karl said. “People who are isolated, people who have obsessive interest in weapons, people that don’t have good social skills, people who tend to act hostile toward other people, people who enjoy hurting animals, these are all warning signs.”

This applies to people of any age, and this type of behavior should be reported and explored.

“And one indicative behavior by itself is meaningless but if you notice two or three of these, we need to know,” Karl said.

Students and staff can notify the North Royalton Police of anything or anyone who just doesn’t seem right, who make them uncomfortable or who are exhibiting these warning signs by calling 440-237-8686. For those who want to remain anonymous, there is a 24/7 tip line, the Safer Schools Ohio tip line, 844-SAFER-OH or 844-723-3764.

Post contributor Ann Morrison contributed to this report.

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