Four years ago, shortly after the Sandy Hook school shooting in December of 2012, Sheriff Lenhart, former Sidney Police Chief Kevin Gessler, and I met to review the Sidney City Schools security plans. Our past security measures were found to be woefully lacking in preparation for an active shooter situation in our school district. From these meetings evolved a list of security measures that was presented in a public forum, encouraging citizen participation and feedback. We have since tweaked some of these security measures, but the original focus still exists — responding to an active shooter in the quickest time possible. Our layered approach to school security includes having an armed and uniformed school security officer in all seven buildings, having a trained First Responder team of educators in every building that have access to handguns, locked in biometric safes situated strategically throughout the buildings, security cameras covering all entrances and hallways, and locked doors with a buzzer system allowing entrance only through the main door. In addition, our schools have gone through ALICE training, with strategies taught to more effectively deal with such a threat as active shooter.
On Tuesday (Jan. 31) at Sidney High School, a student told our School Resource Officer (SRO) that he heard two students talking about shooting up the cafeteria. It took approximately two in a half hours to determine if this information was accurate and two students were eventually questioned and admitted saying this. The students were disciplined accordingly. During the time this investigation was ongoing, the SRO and his immediate supervisors implemented a pro-active plan by having plainclothes detectives and unarmed First Responder team members in the cafeteria during the lunch hour. Despite second guessing by some about how this threat was handled, Officer Anthony Cipollone followed established protocol in handling a stressful situation. Besides helping to protect our staff and students, the relationship building with students that has occurred at Sidney HS is phenomenal. Officer Cipollone deserves most of this credit because of his caring and mentoring of students.
If the situation warranted additional backup, the Sidney Police Department would have been called. In the past at SHS we have welcomed their assistance is such matters as securing the building during a bomb threat, and providing backup during a potentially volatile issue with an upset parent. Our First Responder team members have gone through training and have been instructed to retreat once law enforcement has arrived and identified themselves. One of the recent criticisms made alluded to the police being able to respond to an active shooter in three minutes. Research on school shootings and movie theater shootings indicate every 17 seconds a student (person) is injured or killed. This is precisely why we have a school security officer and First Responder team in every building because an active shooter threat can be put out in seconds — not minutes. Our focus continues on protecting innocent students and staff — especially in the unlikely event of an active shooter, and believe we have an organized and thoughtful plan to minimize the carnage that unfortunately happens in these situations. Thank you, Officer Cipollone, for handling such a stressful situation in a professional and calm manner. The bottom line is that no students were hurt, the school did not resort to panic mode, and the students responsible for making the threat were dealt with.
The writer is the superintendent of Sidney City Schools.