Summit Middle School evaluates safety following February gun incident
Ryan Summerlin March 16, 2014
Following the recent discovery of a gun in a locker at the middle school, Summit School District officials are reaching out to students, staff and parents to educate the community about school safety.
On the morning of Friday, Feb. 21 it was reported that a student was in possession of a firearm at the school. No threat was made toward students or staff. The weapon, which was reportedly going to be used after school for target practice, was found in the student’s locker.
Summit County Sheriff John Minor said the last incident in the district with a firearm took place a few years ago, when a rifle was found in a car in the parking lot of the high school. Before that, Minor said, the last firearm incident was in the early ’90s when a threat was made against the superintendent.
“It doesn’t matter what a crisis is, our response is usually the same,” he said.
Due to privacy laws, the district can’t provide details about the event such as the student’s name. Federal law states a student who brings a firearm to school faces expulsion of no less than one full calendar year; according to the district’s policy on weapons in schools, the superintendent may modify the length of this federal requirement for expulsion on a case-by-case basis.
Travis Avery, emergency response coordinator for the district, said they do not currently have any resource officers, though they did in the past, about three years ago — one at the high school and one at the middle school. A school resource officer is a law enforcement officer who is responsible for providing security and crime prevention services.
“The county and school district had a lot of budget challenges,” he said. “But there’s been a growing conversation about how to bring back at least one or two of those positions.”
Avery said the school prepares for emergencies with lockdown, evacuation, shelter-and-place and lockout drills. These drills are designed to cover a variety of issues, from a hazmat incident to internal threat. Schools must practice all four at least once throughout the year; evacuations, or fire drills, are practiced monthly. Minor said these are one piece of a larger puzzle, since all Summit schools also have physical security, such as locked doors and a check-in requirement for visitors.
“Beyond security, it’s about building relationships and trust with the kids,” he said. “We have to rely on parents and students as part of the security equation. If you see something or hear something, you have to say something. That’s the bottom line.”
Superintendent Heidi Pace sent out two letters to parents about the incident, one Feb. 28 and the next March 6. Pace said it was another student who originally reported the firearm was in the school.
“Safety is our top priority and we will continue to work with law enforcement to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to keep our schools and students safe,” she wrote.
On March 3, there was a review of school safety and the district policies with every class in the middle school. Minor said felony charges have been filed and are still pending. It took a total of five minutes, he said, from the time they retrieved the student from class and to the time they had the firearm in hand.
“We may never know how that kid got the firearm, but we’re going to keep trying to find out,” he said.
Minor said his staff trains for any number of possible incidents throughout the summer, including a chemical spill, a shooting at the high school, wildfires and more. The district is also forming a small work group with law enforcement, to continue to review best practices of school safety.
Avery said he understands the difficulties, especially in middle school, for students to speak up or report something about a friend.
“We want to create schools students want to be at, to be engaged at, and so we want them to let an adult know when there is a problem or threat to that positive climate,” he said.
District spokeswoman Julie McCluskie said while the outcome with this incident was positive, with no one getting hurt, she wants to encourage the community to continue staying updated and engaged about the policies that are in place.
“Safety conversations need to happen at home too,” she said. “We take any report very seriously, and treat it as a threat and respond.”