By: Sara Wolf
On February 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School experienced loss beyond what can be expressed with words. They experienced the horrific situation that sits atop a student and staff member’s list of fears, arguably the worst scenario to take place within school walls: a school shooting. Fourteen students and three staff members lost their lives to bullets fired by former Stoneman Douglas student, Nikolas Cruz. The nation was heartbroken. Fear and anger arose in many. What if they had been my classmates, my teachers, my family members? Is there anything to keep this from happening in my community?
The nation reacted. On March 14, exactly one month after the Stoneman Douglas school shooting, a branch of members that organized the Women’s March advocated for students and staff in schools across the U.S. to participate in a national school walkout, as an act of both memorial and protest. Instead of students walking out of school doors, many students at BHS participated in an optional, school-wide assembly to honor the 17 lives lost in Parkland, Florida. Seniors Riley Allen and McKenna Kramer opened the assembly by reading off the name of each student and staff member that passed in the tragic event before holding a moment of silence. After, senior Joey Derrico shared a touching testimony about how he met survivors of the Parkland shooting, connecting the event that took place thousands of miles away to our very school. It was a powerful reminder that the shooting in Parkland can and should impact everyone, that everyone should hold a concern for the safety of their peers and themselves, and that everyone should do all they can to ensure that BHS is a safe, caring, and inclusive environment.
So, what preventative actions are already in place to keep the Bellbrook High School as safe as possible?
On February 29, 2018, the school refined morning entrance points down to only three entryways. This stricter enforcement ensures that all who enter each morning are coming into the school at more closely-monitored points before all doors lock when class starts at 7:40. Once the school day begins, anyone who wants to come into the school has to go through two entrances: the main office or the athletic office.
During the school day, any visitors or students arriving late must go through the main office. The visitor’s space in the main office consists of first unlocked doors that grant entrance to the office window and places to sit. Any visitors must go to the window to talk to the secretaries and office aides about what they need or expect to be doing within the building. Approved visitors fill out a visitor’s pass name tag before entering the building. The secretaries and aides are able to then unlock the second set of doors once they have spoken to the visitor at the window. Other issues are resolved by aides calling students to the office to meet a parent, or by aides running errands for the adult at the office window so that the visitor isn’t given free range of the school. If the visitor has a concern that needs to be handled by the athletic office, they are not allowed to walk through the school to get there. They must drive around to to the athletic office.
The athletic office is positioned as the main office is, so that any visitor can enter the office by entering into a space with double doors. The first set of doors is unlocked during office hours, leading to the athletic office only. The second set of doors that would release a visitor into the school remained locked and are only unlocked at the decision of the staff member in the athletic office. Visitors usually come to the athletic office to pay a student’s athletic fees, purchase a ticket to a school sporting event, or meet with the athletic director. A visitor with other concerns would be told to drive around to communicate with the main office.
The remainder of the doors around the school are locked at all times. Only school staff are able to open these doors from the outside with fobs.
In addition to these protective actions, all BHS staff have gone through ALICE training (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate), also referred to as run-hide-fight defense. All students and staff are first told to alert and report any sign of danger as soon as they come across it. Guidance counselor Mr. Hartley offers advice to any student to hears something that they should report: “Communicate with whatever teacher or staff member you’re most comfortable with. Whether it’s a counselor, it’s a custodian, it’s a teacher, whomever, you should just approach someone as soon as possible.” In an interview with BHS principal Mr. Baker, he advised the same. “Don’t think that anything you say is ‘ratting’ somebody out, let us make that decision,” he explained. “If you have something that concerns you, let us know. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It’s better for us to know, and if we can intervene, stop something. That’s the optimal situation, versus, ‘Boy, I remember he said something about that,’ and then it happens.”
Next, ALICE training emphasises lockdown, a strategy that students have practiced in not just traditional “lockdown only” drills, but barricade drills as well. Most times, “lockdown only” drills leave students more vulnerable, defenseless targets against an active shooter. ALICE emphasizes self-defense and the use of a barricade in an active shooter situation. If students don’t have the opportunity to get out and escape to safety, they’re to barricade any entry points to the room they’re in. At BHS, students in each classroom have practiced piling desks on top of each other to block doors. “In some situations, you’re going to find it may be better to lock yourself in, barricade the doors,” explained Baker. “If they can’t get in, they can’t get to you.”
The “I” in ALICE is inform, highlighting the importance of “communicating the intruder’s location in real time.” If the shooter was to be in an isolated part of the building, communicating their location would allow for those on the other side of the building to know where to safely evacuate to. “We would be able to direct people over the P.A. system if we knew where it was happening,” assured Mr. Baker.
ALICE’s “C” stands for counter. To counter an active shooter is to create noise, movement, distance and distraction with the intent of reducing the shooter’s ability to shoot accurately. ALICE emphasizes that to counter is not to fight. Students and staff should grab anything they can fit in their hands to throw in defense to disorient the active shooter as much as possible. It is hopefully the last action one must resort to in defense, trying to distract the shooter or reduce their ability to cause damage so that time can be bought to help people evacuate if possible.
“E” stands for evacuate, which is the administration’s hope that everyone is able to do in such a horrible situation. “A school shooting is something that as a principal, you don’t ever want to have to deal with, you don’t want to have your students subjected to,” said Mr. Baker. “The ideal thing is it never happens. If we were to have a situation arise where [an active shooter] came to Bellbrook, first thing is get out. It’s just get out of the building as fast as you can, as long as it is safe to do so.”
Aside from ALICE training, there’s more that students can do to ensure that the environment they walk into each day is as safe as possible. “One of the best things I think students can do,” says Mr. Hartley, “are acts of kindness. Treat people kindly and with care. Just reaching out and letting someone know that they are valued and cared for can make a huge difference when it comes to people really getting into a darker place that’s tough for them. Those kind of things make the environment one where people can walk in and feel welcomed, not walk in and feel rejected. Maybe they’re dealing with something outside of school where they’re getting pounded all the time and rejected, who knows what—this could be their safe haven. Instead of a student coming here and feeling like people are going to talk about them or judge them, they can come here and instead see people say, ‘Hey, glad to see you.’ Simple things like that can really make a difference.”
Mr. Baker hopes that students treat others how they would want to be treated. “If you want to be treated nicely, then treat others nicely,” he says. “There’s no reason to be mean or to be hurtful. That doesn’t mean you have to love everybody. That doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be your best friend. Still you should be kind and considerate. I think that occasionally we have our incidents here where people sometimes aren’t the nicest, but most kids are pretty friendly and a lot of people talk highly of that. At the girls’ state game I had four or five people who worked at the arena come up to me. They saw my little badge with principal on it and said, ‘Hey, your kids are great. They’re so polite, they’re so friendly, they’re so nice.’ We had a pretty representative body of students there. It comes down to if you want to be treated well, then treat others well. And I think that if people do that, then the environment that you’re in typically isn’t so bad.”