In the wake of another shooting that left 17 dead at a Florida high school Wednesday, local educators say they’re doing many things to keep students safe and are always reviewing safety protocols.
School officials also remind parents and all adults to pay close attention to the children and young adults in their communities, especially those who may be struggling, and help them to get the care they need.
Wednesday’s attack, one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, was the 30th mass shooting in the country since the start of the year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks shootings nationwide.
All of the school districts in Franklin County and St. Francis Borgia Regional High School said they work closely with their local police and fire departments, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department and other area security experts on their safety plans.
Most of the schools also conduct active shooter training with staff and have periodic intruder drills.
Washington School District Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said the public schools don’t make an announcement every time there is a tragic event such as the one Wednesday in Florida.
“With social media and the news, everyone already knows,” she said. “We stay true to our safety protocols and our guidance staff is available to support our staff and students as needed.”
VanLeer said the district’s safety teams and planning processes are ongoing.
“So if there is anything to learn from the situation we certainly want to do so,” she said. “The safety, health and well-being of our students and staff remain a top priority.”
VanLeer said it’s very important to pay close attention to youth, as their mental health and social well-being requires guidance and leadership now more than ever.
“Often peers and adults can be proactive by expressing concerns and reaching out for help,” she said. “My heart goes out to the families, and to the school community hurt by this tragic and senseless act.”
An email was sent out to St. Francis Borgia Regional High School parents Thursday morning about the school shooting.
“The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., once again reminds us how we need to be constantly vigilant about keeping our students safe, said the Rev. Kevin Schmittgens, president of the co-ed Catholic high school.
Father Schmittgens said many parents have contacted the school about its safety protocols. In the email he reiterated the school’s safety plans, which include keeping the building locked during the school day. There is only one door that a visitor may enter and they have to be allowed in by someone in the main office.
After school, he said the administration and faculty monitor the parking lots.
Father Schmittgens noted the school has installed emergency response buttons in its buildings, which send an announcement to the entire school, alerts law enforcement and emails necessary individuals that an incident is taking place.
“Finally, we do our utmost to make sure that our students are getting the care that they need to deal with any issues they face,” he said. “Not only do our counselors provide care, but we have someone from Catholic Family Services on site to help students with their problems.”
Father Schmittgens said a group called the Care Team, comprised of counselors, the learning consultant, vice principal and chaplain, meets regularly to brainstorm ways to help students who seem to be struggling.
He urges parents to keep the lines of communication open with their children, as well as with administration and faculty.
At the Union School District, Superintendent Dr. Steve Weinhold said schools conduct drills several times a year. He said thanks to a healthy relationship with the Union police force, he feels that in an active shooter situation, students would be ready.
“In Union, we have a great relationship with our police and because of that we have safe schools,” Weinhold said. “Our kids know what to do.”
He added that the shooting on Wednesday is a stark reminder that proper protocols need to be kept in mind and practiced often. He said keeping guidance staff in the know on students with issues and shoring up safety protocols will continue to be at the forefront of administrators’ minds.
“We just try to make sure our protocols are always in place and that our guidance staff is always available. It’s an ongoing process,” Weinhold said “We’re always looking at our safety measure. We always keep it in mind.”
St. Clair R-XIII School District Superintendent Kyle Kruse said the district has a number of safety measures already in place, including a visible and effective school resource officer and electronically controlled access to the buildings.
In addition, they have a long-standing relationship with the St. Clair Police Department to provide the district with guidance and/or additional police presence as circumstances may require.
“During these times of crisis, our guidance staff is available for any student who might be struggling,” he said. “We are deeply concerned about the well-being of our students, and will provide, or help find, the support they need.
“The tragedy in Broward County, Florida is heartbreaking, and the families involved are in our prayers,” he added. “Our young people need guidance and support from adults who care about them. We would ask schools, families, and community members to stay involved, communicate and work together to help prevent these senseless acts of violence.”
Jeremy Way, interim superintendent of Meramec Valley School District, said following an incident like the Florida shooting, the administration sends a letter to each building principal reminding them to have a conversation with students.
“If you see something, hear something or know something, it’s important to talk to a teacher or principal,” he said. “Information is the biggest deterrent from something like what happened in Florida happening in our district.”
Way said administrators and staff talk about safety to students all the time.
“We have a very active safety committee that will meet next week and this will be one of the topics,” he said.
Way noted that administrators are not the first to know when something is not right.
“Kiddos always know first and we want them to know that they can come to us,” he said. “We’re diligent every day about safety, but in an incident like the Florida shooting we make it a point to have a conversation with the students.”
Lonedell R-XIV Superintendent Jenny Ulrich said the tragedy that occurred in Florida has deeply affected us all.
“Our district diligently prepares our students and staff in regards to safety throughout the year,” she said. “We have processes, protocols and practices in place to do everything in our power to ensure student safety daily on our campus.”
Ulrich said the district has made many structural changes to its buildings to increase student safety as well.
“Safety is a top priority in our district as I know it is in districts across the nation,” she said. “We focus on prevention. We focus on response. We focus on education and reporting.
“However, there is no definition or protocol on the response after an unimaginable situation such as this,” she said. “Our focus would of course be on taking care of our students, staff and our community. Our hearts go out to everyone who has been touched by this senseless tragedy in Florida.”
Elizabeth Barmeier, Pauline Masson and Kavahn Mansouri all contributed to this story.