EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the continuation of a series of stories informing readers about measures being taken in Miami County schools to ensure the safety of students and faculty.
PLEASANT HILL — Newton Local Schools trained several members of staff, including Superintendent Pat McBride, in active shooter training, adding three bio-metric gun safes containing hand guns on its campus this school year.
Newton is the second district in Miami County to add gun safes to its campus security plan, with the first district in the county being Bethel Local Schools.
McBride emphasized that the only person on school grounds carrying a gun on his person will be Miami County Sheriff’s Office School Resource Officer (SRO) Ryan Karn. Only trained and authorized personnel have access to three locked closets equipped with bio-metric guns safes, which use authorized thumbprints to access guns in case of an active shooter incident. Karn said checks on those safes will be part of his daily safety checks on school grounds. Karn and McBride also have the ability to remove volunteers and their thumbprints from the safe at any given time.
The three safes are in locked closets or areas of the school, none of which are in classrooms.
“There are three gun safes located throughout the school behind a locked door. They are bio-metric safes and no one is ever allowed to access those safes except for emergency situations,” Karn said earlier this summer. “I check them every day to make sure they are there.”
McBride also said Karn helped improved structural safety measures on Newton’s campus over the years.
“We have spent a little more than $5,000 on the weapons, ammunition and bio-metric safes. We spent $2,500 to reconfigure the electronic locks on our entry doors. We will spend approximately $4,000 on a variety of other school security enhancements to the physical building,” McBride said.
McBride said the safes are located in the building close to those who have been trained to have access in case of a violent threat on campus.
Last spring, McBride said he had spoken with Hardin-Houston Local Schools’ Superintendent Larry Claypool about school safety knowing Claypool’s district includes weapons on campus in rural Shelby County. Claypool invited McBride and Karn to tour the Hardin-Houston district and discuss the issue with the district’s SRO.
“The training part made sense to me and then we started discussing response time. That was the key to me,” McBride said.
McBride said although both districts have full-time SROs, Newton, a rural district without a police presence in the village, is much like Hardin-Houston.
McBride said as he learned more about the protocol, training and safety plans districts with weapons used, he slowly changed his stance on no weapons on his district’s campus. As he continued to research the district’s options and held many discussions with local law enforcement and other local superintendents, another major school shooting occurred in Florida just as he and Karn left Houston on their way back to Pleasant Hill from their tour.
“That day on our way back we heard about the shooting in Florida — Parkland,” said McBride, who said the incident in Parkland confirmed his decision to move forward with adding guns to the district’s safety plan.
McBride said he studied the Parkland, Florida shooting’s series of events and then gathered more information from Miami County Sheriff David Duchak and his staff. McBride said he met with sheriff’s office personnel to discuss how the district would move forward and safely implement its plan to add weapons on its campus beginning this school year.
McBride said Sheriff Duchak was supportive of the district and community’s decision to add weapons to its campus. McBride also participated in the weapons training, range time, classroom and active shooter scenarios and is one of the authorized staff members who has access to the guns in an active shooting event.
“We’ll continue to do ongoing training so it doesn’t stop, on a bi-monthly if not monthly timeline,” said McBride, who served three years of active service and one year of reserve service in the U.S. Army. McBride was a member of the Special Forces beginning in 1980.
“The only way to save lives is to have help,” he said. “If there was an active shooter in the building, obviously (SRO Karn) is going to call for help, we’re going to call for help.”
McBride said once additional law enforcement is on the scene in an emergency, the volunteers are trained to step down and allow officers to respond.
McBride said a statistic that stayed with him during his research was that most of the violent acts during a school shooting occurs within the first four minutes.
“So if a sheriff or officer can’t respond until four or five minutes later, it’s already done,” he said. “I relied heavily on data. The data says the quicker you can respond to a threat, the more lives you are going to save.”
Volunteer staff trained over the summer with Miami County Sheriff’s Office officials, was provided by sheriff’s office at no cost to the district.
Karn said all school staff members underwent the exact training that deputies must complete in order to become sworn officers.
McBride said the district held a community meeting last spring and he said he felt the overwhelming majority of the community supports its decision, with the exception of a local church group who remains opposed.
The same laws apply regarding residents and their rights to carry weapons on school property, McBride said. In March 2017, Ohio expanded its concealed carry weapons law to allow carriers to store guns in their personal vehicles while in a school zone, but unauthorized personnel and community members are still banned from having weapons on their person on school property.
McBride said the overall decision is to protect the school’s students and staff and hopes those weapons never have to be used.
“We are not there do anything or replace anybody. We are there to provide assistance and a quick response in the unlikely hood that this is going to happen,” he said. “Statistically, it’s very unlikely anything like this is ever going to happen, but in the event that it does, we are prepared the best way we can.”