Dozen students who serve on The Canton Repository’s Teen Board share thoughts during week that saw gun violence dominate conversations.
Students across Stark County are adjusting to what could be their new normal: Multiple police officers greeting them at school, backpack restrictions and limits on when they can leave the classroom.
The stricter measures come in response to a wave of social media threats against local schools and following the death of a 13-year-old student who carried a rifle onto a school bus and into Jackson Memorial Middle School before shooting himself inside a bathroom. Police continue to investigate whether the shooting was accidental or intentional.
A Canton Repository reporter last week talked with a dozen students who serve on the Repository’s Teen Board, which meets monthly to choose the Repository’s Teen of the Month. The students were asked for their thoughts on the safety and security of their schools.
On security drills:
Mackenzie Rush of Canton South High School believes schools should practice a potential shooter drill more often. Several other students agreed.
“We got a new school this year, and I’ve never been there for a lockdown drill,” Rush said, noting that she has missed multiple days of school due to activities and for other reasons. “We have a lot of windows, and they aren’t bulletproof. I would like us to do a security drill just because I want to know what I would do in my classes, especially in the classes that have a whole row of windows.”
Teresa Roth of Perry High School believes schools also need to prepare students for when they aren’t sitting in a classroom, such as changing classes or eating lunch.
“You never practice that, and I understand that’s because it’s going to be a mess and everything, but what are we supposed to do if it does happen then?” she said. “I would like to see a lockdown drill when the bell changes and nobody knows what to do. … I would rather go through the chaos and have to be annoyed that day learning what to do than if something happens and not knowing what to do.”
Natalie Vinci of St. Thomas Aquinas High School said beyond security drills, her school also presented a two-day program that taught students how to detect if one of their classmates could be considering gun violence.
“A lot of times it’s a student in the school (who is the shooter), and they’re involved in all these lockdowns so they know how it works and they can plan around it,” Vinci said. “A lot of times they will show definite signs, so I think it’s a program that should be more encouraged in all school districts because it really opens your eyes.”
Ina Drummond from East Canton High School said it would also be helpful for schools to remind students that counselors are available if they need it and how to access their services.
“Some kids don’t know about that stuff, and it’s better to put it out there before something happens,” she said.
On schools installing metal detectors at entrances:
Nearly all of the students supported the use of metal detectors or a bag check at their schools.
“I think it is becoming the world we are living in,” said Rush of Canton South. “I don’t want to have to go through a metal detector before school, but if it’s for my safety or even when I become a parent, for my kid’s safety, I think it’s necessary. … I would rather wait in line in the cold for 5 minutes than lose my life or anything like that.”
Stephen Skeens of Tuslaw High School questioned how effective a metal detector would be in deterring a shooter.
“If you really want to shoot a school bad enough, you would find a way to get past metal detectors,” Skeens said. “There’s evidence showing that anytime you enforce restrictions on something or pass a law, the amount of crime goes down. But school shootings are not something that is frequently happening at a single school, so it’s probably one or two kids at the school who want to shoot the school, and if they want to shoot the school bad enough, they are going to find a way to do it.”
Jackson High School student Mitchell Dillon questioned the practicality of metal detectors.
“At least at Jackson, there are tons and tons of different entrances,” he said. “How many times did a shooting start with someone walking through the front door? I would imagine if you have an accomplice that it would be very, very easy, even if you have metal detectors at the front doors, to have someone open up (another) door.”
Vinci added that metal detectors still will not protect students outside the building or who are leaving the building.
On the effectiveness of school programs that emphasize inclusivity:
Roth said Perry High School, which has had five students and a recent graduate die by suicide, has created several new clubs for students to join to promote inclusion.
“The programs are really nice and I like being a part of them and meeting new people, but the people who need it, they’re not going to them,” she said.
Drummond said she wishes smaller schools, such as East Canton High School, would offer more clubs and activities for those students who aren’t athletes.
“I feel like if we have more clubs and activities, then students would feel more involved,” she said.
Skeens of Tuslaw believes students need to take more responsibility in building a relationship with their peers who need help.
“We know who these people are (that need help), these programs don’t know who these people are,” he said. ”… If you can find a way to build a relationship with that person, that would be just one more roadblock in their way before they pulled the trigger.”
But other students said they don’t always feel their attempts to befriend someone new is well-received.
“Talking to others maybe who are labeled as an outcast or don’t fit in as well, it seems like they don’t want to, like they have this grudge that they’ve been an outcast and why start now?” McKinley High School student Silvera Hayes said. “They won’t even talk to counselors.”