Staff thought unknown man who entered school was a bus driver
By KATIE SCHWENDEMAN
The office staff that allowed an elderly man into the high school on March 25 believed he was a bus driver transporting students to and from the career center, Superintendent Don Mook said.
According to a video of this week’s board of education meeting, Mook briefed the public and board members on exactly what occurred that day, and how to prevent future incidents from happening.
What took place on March 25 was an elderly man requested to be let into the building to use the restroom, claiming it was an emergency.
The building secretary advised him to come to the office first before using a restroom located down the hallway. Instead, the man ended up in a student restroom, where two students were occupying the only two existing stalls.
Mook said that according to students’ conversations, the man told the boys he needed to use the facility as it was an emergency and requested they hurry up, but the students did not, and he resorted to defecating in the waste can.
The building was put on a level 1 lockdown since the man neglected to sign in at the office and did not return to sign out, a district policy for all school buildings.
“Our video shows him exiting the restroom, the commons, and out the front doors,” Mook said.
Because he did not sign in, the man’s identity remains unknown, and other than breaching that protocol, he did nothing criminal, Police Chief Tim Gladis has said.
The police department worked closely with the school during that time and Detective Wade Boley, who serves as the school’s DARE officer, was already there.
During a level 1 lockdown classes continue, with students and staff remaining where they are for the duration of the lockdown.
“It took time to verify on our video that the individual did leave the facility. During that time Wade Boley …was in our commons throughout the whole process with our principals,” Mook said.
Not once did the superintendent- who has two daughters enrolled there-believe the situation involved a threat of any kind.
“We felt at that point we had an elderly gentleman who had to use the restroom … we had a transition where our career center kids were coming in. They believed it was one of our sub bus drivers who came in. It turned out not to be that,” he said.
He went on to say that while the situation revealed areas the district could tighten its security, he does not want to see school buildings shut off to the community supporting them.
“Schools were never made to be fortresses, never made to be lockdown facilities. In 1999, on April 20, when Columbine happened, everybody in the nation buckled down in their schools, and we continue to learn every day what happens … we learn from Chardon, we learn from Sandy Hook, and we try to implement those things,” he said.
He said more security cameras are needed at each building, but cautioned the surveillance isn’t the sole answer for preventing school violence.
“Increased cameras are not going to stop individuals from entering a school building anywhere in this nation … if somebody wants in they are going to get in. We understand that,” he said.
However, he believes if cameras are located in an area that can be easily seen they will be a deterrent to those who know they are being watched. Video surveillance at the district has nearly tripled since he was hired as superintendent, Mook added.
“I think when I came here we had one at each main entrance, that means four total in the district. We now have 15,” he said.
And while the district is being more vigilant about who enters and exits buildings, statistics show that most school violence happens from within, he added.
He said 98 percent of school shootings involve those between the ages of 11 and 25.
“We do realize that in school shootings, generally, it’s your own students that you have to be concerned about. We don’t profile, but we do have a clear understanding from an administrative standpoint, from a staff standpoint, what to look for,” he said.
School staff have participated in in-house training with local police and the county sheriff’s office to handle such events, even before the March 25 incident that spurred looking into additional security measures.
Mook said the board will need to consider in the coming months how to supplement school safety, but he does not want to see everyone denied access.
“We still have to be a school district. I think being a school district has to have an element of being a friendly place to be. We put our secretaries, unfortunately, in a position of scrutinizing every single person that walks through the door and being rude about how we go about what we do, and many times with our own parents. That is a concern,” he said.
He also said he has spoken with other superintendents, administration and staff, and believes the incident was “blown way out of proportion” with the media.
“At the end of the day I have not seen anything that would indicate violence has taken place in our facilities. I still feel this is a very, very safe school district. Can we do things better? Sure. Can we put metal detectors in? Sure, we can. There are costs to all those things. We can continue to talk about all the solutions. At the end of the day, we’ve revisited. If we have somebody that wants to use the facility they will come into the office and use the office facility- we don’t let them out in our building whatsoever. I think that eliminates that problem,” he said.
Board members were in agreement the school could look into more safety measures while remaining a friendly, welcoming district.
“I agree we need to discuss these things to make sure that everything we do is so secure that we cover the bases to ensure the students are safe, and they feel safe, and the teachers are safe within the confines of the school,” Board member Scott Caron said.
“The community owns us, and we are part of the community, and we want to be welcoming. We just need to let them know the boundaries. But our job is to keep our students safe. I think our secretaries do a good job with that. I think this is just a reminder,” board member Kelly Witmer said.