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Districtwide Student Walkouts Planned as Part of Safer Together Day

Anne Evans Anne Evans Districtwide Student Walkouts Planned as Part of Safer Together DayStudents across the county have been marching and protesting as a result of the shooting in Parkland, Florida. Photo by Fibonacci Blue / Flickr via Creative Commons license.
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On March 6, 2018, the Columbus City Schools Board of Education voted on a resolution declaring Wednesday, March 14, 2018 as Safer Together Day. March 14 marks one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead. Walkouts and events are being planned by students and administration on that day as part of the Youth EMPOWER National School Walkout. The walkout is for students, teachers, and staff across the entire country to walkout of their classrooms at 10:00 a.m. for 17 minutes, representing the 17 lives lost in the tragedy in Broward County, Florida.

At Hubbard Mastery School, a preK-6th school in the Columbus City Schools District, Interim Principal Leslie Williams has planned a meet and greet for students that will take place after a fire drill.

“Teachers and students will introduce themselves to 17 different people (in memory of the 17 that lost their lives in Florida) that they have never met or barely know,” says Williams. “They will say their name and a few things about themselves such as favorite color, TV show, if they have pets, etc. We are hoping that by getting to know each other better we will find more things we have in common and less things to separate us.”

Scott Varner, spokesperson for Columbus City Schools, noted that at the elementary level, the discussion is not necessarily about gun violence and the political atmosphere, but more about students talking together and being able to take notice when a fellow student seems out of sorts. “It’s about what are you doing to say something to others,” he says.

In the resolution it is noted that the Board has invested “significant resources into a variety of approaches, including positive behavior intervention and support (PBIS), trauma-informed care, and restorative justice practices, to assist our staff in building trusting relationships between our students, families, staff, and safety teams.”

Varner said those trusting relationships are critical to the Safer Together initiative, launched by the district in February in response to the events in Florida.

In the initiative, the district “encourages anyone connected to Columbus City Schools to “See Something, Say Something” by calling or texting an anonymous hotline 844-SAFER-OH if you are aware of a potential danger to one of our students or our schools.”

The anonymous tip line is answered by analysts in the Ohio Homeland Security’s Threat Assessment and Prevention (TAP) Unit.

“They are skilled at threat assessment,” says Varner. “They ask for as much detail as possible to determine a threat level and then take appropriate steps.”

The tip line was launched in December 2014 by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Department of Public Safety, but this is the first time Columbus City Schools has been working to get awareness of the number to its families and community.

“Overall concerns and awareness [about gun violence] made it the right time to be embracing it as an option, to build the trust even bigger and extend the safe zone,” said Varner.

“How do we get more people involved in extending the safety zone?” asked Varner. He says the district plans to continue outreach to community partners, such as churches, the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, and the YMCA to name a few.

“We have people walking with students to and from school, making sure they are safe along their walks and stay safe.”

Varner says the district is supportive of the events scheduled to happen on Wednesday, March 14.

“The movement is coming from the voice of young people and the district is supportive of that,” he said.

In a district email sent to staff on March 8, it was noted from Chief Academic Officer Alesia N. Gillison that some of the district’s schools “have already begun their planning to support students and staff who choose to partake in the walkout” and that “everyone should have a plan on how to make the most of the walkout for those who do participate.”

Students at South High have planned a walkout and march to the football stadium to conduct a moment of silence in honor the 14 students and 3 teachers that were killed in the Parkland, Florida shooting, in addition to a short rally. Following the rally, community members are invited to join students inside the school to discuss what actions can be taken next.

South Side Area Commissioner Atticus Hannel Coulter Garden plans to be one of the members of the neighborhood in attendance for the discussion. He agrees that relationships are an integral part of building and creating safer and healthier neighborhoods.

“Building relationships and trust with families and students on the South Side is important to creating safer and healthier neighborhoods,” he says. “Many of whom have been been victims of gun violence. South High School is such an integral part of our community. Serina and Joshua, the two students planning Wednesday’s walkout have essentially taken their future into their own hands and called on our community to come together and join them. So the most important thing we can do is show up and listen. That’s my hope for Wednesday. Whether you live on the South Side, North Side, East Side, or West Side, you’ll show up with your ears open and be ready to listen. We need to truly hear that message and be ready to act.”

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office offers free courses for training in Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events from Patrol and SWAT Deputies. The program was designed and built on the Avoid, Deny, Defend strategy developed by ALERRT in 2004, and provides strategies, guidance and a proven plan for surviving an active shooter event.

Sergeant Jason Ratcliff noted that while the classes are highly popular, they are not often used by schools. The program is regularly updated, and has been updated within the last few months.

“Only a handful of private schools [have used the program] which has always been staff, not students, and nothing recently,” he says. “Our audience is generally businesses, non-profits, organizations/groups and places of worship. We have offered to various public schools in the past but none have taken us up on the offer. Some of this may have to do with length of class, 3-4 hrs, which the schools cannot accommodate.”

The district employs 53 people in its Safety and Coordination office and there are 21 uniformed Safety Resource Offices (SROs) stationed at schools. Those positions are not going to be part of the reductions being made in response to budgetary issues.

Varner said the district has “taken a proactive stance when it comes to increasing the safety and security of our students, with safety upgrades and more planned.”

“There is a heightened safety awareness every building,” he says. “In partnership with Columbus Police, a greater security presence has also been added to many of our buildings. Visitors are likely to experience additional scrutiny before being allowed to enter buildings.”

He notes that since the start of the school year, students across the district have participated in a combined 1600+ safety drills and 600+ lockdown drills.

“Even though there may not be specific active shooter training with students, the safety drills they practice (evacuation, reverse evacuation, shelter in place) all are part of how you should react if there was a threat in a building (run, hide, lockdown).”

The anonymous tip line is 1-844-SAFEROH (844-723-3764).

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