CINCINNATI – In late January, educators and students at a Cincinnati school thought an active shooter drill was the real thing.
Dianna Schweitzer, who teaches English as a second language, hid under a sink with two students at the school in Roselawn.
She offered to trade hiding places with a colleague because her children were younger.
“We all felt it was real,” said Schweitzer, who works at the Academy of Multilingual Immersion Studies within Cincinnati Public Schools. “We didn’t hear ‘drill’ at all.”
The incident at the school led Schweitzer and others to speak out Friday during a Board of Education committee meeting. They called for an update to drill protocol, saying new methods should be adopted to prevent the trauma experienced by educators and students.
Kristan Sterling, a math teacher at the school, said students in her classroom armed themselves with scissors, barricaded the door with a bookshelf and cowered in a corner, out of sight from a window.
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“They looked at me for answers,” Sterling told the school board members and others at the Friday meeting. “The only thing I could come up with was, ‘Go. Make it home.'”
When her classroom door opened, an official praised the approximately 20 “terrified” kids for hiding so well, Sterling said.
“I was furious,” Sterling told the committee. She thought of the possibility of her students attacking someone by accident. “I’ve got students packed and ready with scissors.”
Sterling and Schweitzer called for more thorough training and a better notification method to clearly distinguish drills from true events.
Ralph Ruwan, the CPS security supervisor, said at the meeting that school officials are expected to announce a drill before it begins.
He added a police officer told him in this particular incident, the drill had been announced. And Ruwan, who has been with CPS for nearly 20 years, said there has never been an unannounced drill in his memory.
“You have to make sure they know it’s a drill,” he said.
But Sterling and Schweitzer said they never heard the word drill in the late January incident, only a description of an intruder’s whereabouts. An announcement after the training ended did identify it as a drill, Sterling said.
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Announcing the whereabouts of a mock intruder is part of the training, Ruwan said, and teachers have the option based on the intruder’s location in the building to hide, flee or fight.
Schweitzer said the protocol for running such drills should be more explicit.
“We need to know … in advance if it’s a drill,” she said.
School board member Mike Moroski, in an interview with The Enquirer, agreed the drills need to be updated.
“My goal to be perfectly blunt is to revamp them entirely in lieu of being able to get rid of them,” Moroski said.
Moroski told The Enquirer of speaking to a student who said he felt safest at school, but that active shooter drills had contributed to his increasing unease.
Ohio schools must perform the drills by law, according to Daniel Hoying, general counsel for CPS. But Hoying said the manner in which the drills are conducted can be modified.
Kendra Phelps, a professional issues representative with the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, said during the meeting that there is a difference between announcing a drill in the midst of it taking place and preparing teachers for one.
“Parents and teachers can practice in a serious way without feeling traumatized,” she said.