We were lucky enough to snag a copy of OEA's latest "Ohio Schools" magazine. Reading through it yesterday, we came to this incredibly powerful and moving piece on the Chardon shootings. Here it is.
CAREFUL RESPONSE AND COMPASSION MAKE THE DIFFERENCE IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE NATION'S DEADLIEST HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING IN SIX YEARS
On February 27, a 17-year-old student sat down at a cafeteria table at Chardon High School and pulled a gun from a bag. Then he stood up and began shooting. Minutes later, those at the 1,100-student school said they heard screams, as the first 911 calls were made, teachers locked down classrooms, and students started sending text messages to friends and parents.
Student Daniel Parmertor, 16, died of his wounds hours after the shooting. Student Russell King Jr., 17, died early February 28; and Demetrius Hewlin, 16, died later that day. Wounded students, Joy Rickers, 18, and Nick Walczak survived that attack.
The defendant in the shootings, T.J. Lane, a sophomore at Lake Academy, an alternative high school for at-risk students, was arrested after being chased out of the cafeteria by a teacher. He later confessed to authorities that he fired 10 rounds from a .22-caliber pistol and had chosen his victims at random.
Lane has been charged as a juvenile with three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated attempted murder and one count of felonious assault. His next scheduled court hearing is on April 3, when the judge will determine whether he should be tried as an adult. Under Ohio law, if the Geauga County Prosecutor can show probable cause that Lane committed the crimes he is charged with, the teen's case will move to adult court where Lane could be sentenced to life in prison without parole if convicted.
As the students, educators and residents of Chardon have struggled to understand the nation's deadliest shooting at a high school in six years, each has been part of the critical recovery effort that began on February 27 and will continue for a long time to come.
The response to the tragedy involved the collaborative and careful response of first responders, school administrators, the Chardon Education Association (Local President Tammy Segulin), Chardon Association of Classified Employees (Local President Ferd Wolfe) and Auburn Career & Technical Association (Local President Bob Hill), OEA Labor Relations Consultants (LRCs) Todd Jaeck and Kim Lane (Mentor office) and the OEA Crisis Response Team.
Immediately following the shootings on February 27, high school students were evacuated one room at time with assistance from law enforcement. Parents were notified to report to Maple Elementary School via ConnectEd and staff organized a sign- out procedure to reunite students with their parents. Parents of the injured students were privately notified.
Later that morning, Chardon High School staff met with the administration and law enforcement for updates on the injured and on the suspect.
On February 28, a District Response Team including building administrators, the district communications director, heads of law enforcement, mental health professionals, local clergy and local association representatives assembled to outline plans for the remainder of the school week.
Two days after the deadly shooting the district called faculty and staff together for updates from the administration and law enforcement and for grief counseling. On March 1, staff returned to the school buildings and parents and students were invited to return to the high school for a walk- through and to meet with counselors. On March 2, all schools reopened.
As the Chardon tragedy unfolded, 0EA's 16-member Crisis Response Team began its work with locals and made preparations to meet with staff when they returned to work. A group of OEA staff and one school counselor, the Crisis Response Team is trained to provide intervention services for education staff in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or violent incident that occurs while students are in school or that is otherwise related to a school or campus site.
Although school staff and students had practiced lockdown drills and evacuation procedures with local law enforcement during the past three years, they had hoped that these would remain drills. Local leaders like Chardon Education Association President Segulin explained that they had never practiced how to handle the aftermath of a real crisis.
On March 5, team members Kim Lane, Bill Pearsol, Cindy Petersen, Tom Williams, Lori Morgan and therapy dog, Bella—assisted teachers and education support professionals at Chardon High School and at the Auburn Career Center as they began the healing process. Key to their work was offering resources and emotional support to help restore a sense of safety and security within the schools and community.
"Many of the members were still in a state of disbelief and running on pure adrenaline," Lane said. "Individually, they shared their feelings of anger, grief and a sense of helplessness."
The following week, Crisis Response Team members Lane, Betty Elling, Suzanne Kaszar, Morgan and Bella continued to assist staff at both the high school and middle school as the reality of the incident was beginning to sink in.
"Many times a major crisis starts to emotionally break down a staff to the point where members leave the building or profession altogether," Segulin said. "Members of the Crisis Response Team were stationed in several of our buildings and were able to discuss personal matters as well as reassure members that being together is an important part of the staff's long term healing and cohesion. Students eventually graduate and move on, yet the school staff that remains must foster the positive growth and healing well after the tragedy."
Through the end of the school year, local law enforcement will be present at the high school and grief counselors and therapy dogs will be on site to assist students and staff. Substitute teachers will also be available for any teacher who needs time away from the classroom.
Segulin shared the gratitude of the locals for the help of the OEA Crisis Response Team, LRCs Jaeck and Lane, OEA Communications and Political Action Consultant Gary Carlile and the NEA for their assistance and resources. She said the NEA Crisis Guide, http://crisisguide.neahin.org/crisisguidet has proven especially beneficial and that the Chardon administrative team, communications director, mental health professionals and teachers have since incorporated its guidelines and ideas into their crisis plan.
"While there is no perfect model for handling a crisis," Segulin said, "the guidelines provide a meaningful and thoughtful approach to helping Chardon heal and memorialize our fallen and injured students."
For those who teach and work and learn in Chardon, an unspeakable tragedy has been met with an unprecedented outpouring of compassion and support from both neighboring and distant schools and communities and from the nation at large.
Messages have arrived daily from people around the world. Sympathy cards and words of encouragement line student lockers, signed banners stretch through the school and flowers and potted plants offer color and cheer. A red-and-black paper chain made by Chardon elementary school students extends down each hallway.
For staff, Segulin said, "We had no idea that simply being together was most important on our grief journey." They are grateful to fellow teachers and community agencies that provided breakfasts, lunches and goodies that allowed them to replenish their bodies, sit down with one another, listen and make plans for the future.
No one knew whether students would be strong enough to face their fears and return to the building. "That was dispelled three days later when the Class of 2012 and their parents led a school-wide march from the Chardon town square to the school as a symbol of solidarity," Segulin said.
Neighbors lined the streets, cheering as the students entered the building and cafeteria with tears streaming down their faces. Staff greeted them with applause and hugs. "Parents thanked us for keeping their children safe," Segulin said, "as we thanked the students for having the courage to come back."