It's something parents would rather not think about. However, in light of today's elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., it's a topic that can hardly be ignored.
While the likelihood of there being a school shooting in Hillsborough County is slim, (Hillsborough County has the eighth largest school district in the nation and has never had a school shooting), the Hillsborough County School District isn't taking any chances when it comes to the safety of students and staff, said Cpt. Bamir Ode of the Hillsborough County School Security Services Department.
"We have a crisis plan in place for each school in the district," said Ode. "I can't discuss details of the plans because it would put the plans in jeopardy. But we're prepared if anything happens."
"We have a voluminous crisis management and each school has its own plan for a number of possible scenarios," said Linda Cobbe, spokeswoman for the school district. "They’re reviewed regularly and we have drills. If anything occurs that we haven’t seen before, we add it to the protocols."
Among the considerations in a school emergency is how to contact parents. Normally, the school's ParentLink System is used to call or email parents in a crisis situation.
"But, in the case of a school shooting, the staff at the school won't be in a position to write a script and make the phone calls," Cobbe said. "We have to balance making sure children are safe with communicating with parents. Most likely, our Office of Communications would handle notifying parents. And probably the best way to notify them is by getting information out to the media."
In the case of an emergency, such as a school shooting, the district would evacuate students as far away from the school as possible, said Cobbe. "Each school has a reunification site, and parents need to know what that is."
Maintaining safe, secure schools falls under the domain of the Security Services Department, which provides around-the-clock specially trained professional security and law enforcement personnel.
The security department deals with a wide range of school issues including threats to school personnel, trespassers, property damage, theft, vandalism and burglaries. If a school shooting occurred, the department would ensure that the individual school's crisis plan is put into action.
"We do everything possible within our means to protect our students," said Cobbe.
In addition to the security department, each middle and high school has a school resource office on the premises.
Unlike some school districts in the country, Hillsborough County isn't quite ready to place metal detectors in every school, however.
"Even if we had them at entrances, it wouldn't guarantee that an intruder won't find another way into the building," Cobbe said.
"At this point, all we can do is hope that nothing ever happens and, if it does, that everyone remembers their training and follows it."
While she said she understands the concerns of parents in light of today's shooting, Cobbe said students are, by and large, safe at school.
"We protect their children with the same veracity that they protect their children," she said. "Schools are safer than most any other place in the world.”
Just How Prevalent are School Shootings?
Including today's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., there have been 30 school shootings in the United States since 1995.
- Jan. 12, 1995: A student left his Seattle school during the day and returned with his grandfather's 9mm. He wounded two students.
- Oct. 12, 1995: A suspended student in Blackville, S.C., shot two math teachers with a .32-caliber revolver.
- Nov. 15, 1995: A 17-year-old boy in Lynnville, Tenn., shot and killed a student and teacher with a .22 rifle.
- Feb. 2, 1996: Two students and one teacher were killed and one other wounded when 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis of Moses Lake, Wash., opened fire on his algebra class.
- Feb. 19, 1997: A Bethel, Alaska, principal and one student were killed and two others wounded by Evan Ramsey, 16.
- Oct. 1, 1997: Two students in Pearl, Miss., were killed and seven wounded by Luke Woodham, 16, who was also accused of killing his mother.
- Nov. 27, 1997: Fourteen-year-old John Kamel, a West Palm Beach middle school student, was fatally shot in the chest on a sidewalk outside his school by 14-year-old Tronneal Mangum after an argument over an Adidas watch that Mangum had taken from Kamel.
- Dec. 1, 1997: Three students in West Paducah, Ky., were killed and five wounded by Michael Carneal, 14, as they participated in a prayer circle at Heath High School.
- Dec. 15, 1997: Two students standing in the parking lot of their school in Stamps, Ark., were wounded when Colt Todd, 14, shot at them from the woods.
- March 24, 1998: Four students and one teacher were killed and 10 others wounded outside Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark. Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, shot at their classmates and teachers from the woods after sounding a false fire alarm.
- April 24, 1998: One teacher, John Gillette, was killed and two students wounded at a dance at James W. Parker Middle School in Edinboro, Pa. Andrew Wurst, 14, was charged.
- May 21, 1998: Two students were killed and 22 others wounded in the cafeteria at Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore., by 15-year-old Kip Kinkel. Kinkel had been arrested and released a day earlier for bringing a gun to school. His parents were later found dead at home, shot to death by their son.
- June 15, 1998: One teacher and one guidance counselor were wounded by a 14-year-old boy in the school hallway in Richmond, Va.
- April 20, 1999: Fourteen students (including the shooters) and one teacher were killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, Col. Twenty-seven others were wounded. Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, had plotted for a year to kill at least 500 and blow up their school. At the end of their hour-long rampage, they turned their guns on themselves.
- May 20, 1999: Six students were injured at Heritage High School in Conyers, Ga., by Thomas Solomon, 15, who was reportedly depressed after breaking up with his girlfriend.
- Feb. 29, 2000: An unidentified 6-year-old offender in a Michigan school shot one student fatally.
- May 26, 2000: Lake Worth Middle School teacher Barry Grunow was fatally shot by his student, 13-year-old Nathaniel Brazill, who had returned to school after being sent home at 1 p.m. by the assistant principal for throwing water balloons. Brazill returned to school on his bike with a 5-inch Raven and four bullets stolen from his grandfather the week before.
- Sept. 26, 2000: Darrel Johnson, 13, fatally shot a student at a Louisiana school.
- March 5, 2001: Charles Andrew William, age 15, fatally shot two students at a California school.
- March 30, 2001: Donald R. Burt Jr., age 18, shot a student dead in an Indiana school.
- Sept. 24, 2003: John Jason McLaughlin, age 15, shot two students dead at a Minnesota school.
- Feb. 2, 2004: An unidentified offender in Washington, D.C., shot one student fatally.
- May 7, 2004: An unidentified 17-year-old shot one student fatally at a Maryland school.
- March 21, 2005: Jeff Weise, 16, killed a teacher, five students, one security guard and two relatives at a Minnesota school.
- November 8, 2005: Kenny Bartley, age 15, fatally shot his principal at a Tennessee school.
- Feb. 27, 2012:T.J. Lane, 17, took a .22-caliber pistol and a knife to Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, and fired 10 shots at a group of students sitting at a cafeteria table, killing three and wounding two.
- Aug. 27, 2012: Robert Gladden, 15, reportedly took a double-barrel shotgun to Perry Hall High School in Baltimore and shot a 17-year-old senior with Down syndrome in the lower back.
- Sept. 26, 2012: Cade Poulos, 13, shot himself in the head right before classes started at Stillwater Junior High School in Stillwater, Okla.
- Nov. 30, 2012: Christopher Krumm, age 25, shot a teacher, parent and himself with a bow and arrow.
- Dec. 14, 2012: Shooter Ryan Lanza, 24, killed 27, including 18 children in Newtown, Conn., then committed suicide in the school.
Source: Kansas City Star