South Strives to Secure Student Safety

Marta Arn, Reporter

Safety has been an issue plaguing schools across the country for decades, yet recent local events have brought the issue to Westerville South’s doorstep, begging the question: do students feel safe at Westerville South? 

On Friday, Sept. 23, a firearm was found on Westerville South school property during school hours. Principal Michael Hinze said investigators believe the weapon was never in the building and posed no significant threat as it was not loaded and no ammunition was found in the car. 

Still, the incident was handled seriously and was contained within a matter of minutes after administrators were notified. There was no lockdown because, according to Hinze, “We were very, very quickly able to isolate it to what it was. If we were not, there would have been a lockdown.” 

A letter has already been sent out to parents regarding the incident. School resource officer Keith Jackson said no further details can be provided as it is still an ongoing investigation. 

Prank-calling schools or police stations to falsely report active shooters has been a threat targeting schools across the nation. While the threat has not been directed toward any school in Westerville, it has been directed toward Licking Valley Local Schools, about 40 minutes east of Westerville. 

Hinze said all threats to school safety are taken seriously until it is determined as fake. Within a matter of minutes, the school can figure out where a call came from using resources such as local police and phone companies to plan for the best response. A letter to parents or guardians regarding this trend has also been sent home. 

Based on Scribe interviews with more than 20 students, most say they feel safe at school. People like Officer Jackson and trusted adults help students feel safe according to collective responses.  Hinze emphasized that, as a staff, building an environment where people feel emotionally and socially safe is crucial to general safety, so if a student has a concern, they know they will be heard and the issue will be resolved. 

Officer Jackson said his role in school safety is to be where students are in the hallways and in the lunchroom so they feel comfortable bringing up concerns. Junior Jonathan Stump said there are a lot of things that put him on edge when he comes to school but if he saw something, he would feel comfortable enough to say something. 

Sophomore Keith Hehl said that practicing lockdown, fire, tornado, and other safety drills helps him feel safer at school because he knows what to do if something were to happen. Jacob Miller, an English teacher at South, also mentioned the practice drills that happen periodically, “There is always a plan if something happens.” 

Additionally, he said the staff is trained to react to multiple situations, making teachers as prepared as they could be. “I have a sense of obligation to protect my students,” Miller said. 

Senior Mollie Kinkead commented that she does not feel more unsafe than she does anywhere else. “If it is as safe as it could be, it would feel like a prison,” she explained. Hinze shared this sentiment saying that realistically, “We don’t operate in isolation of our community.” 

If there is an issue in the homes of the students, it can be expected to find its way into the school. “We don’t choose our students, it is a public school,” he said, and working with the community can greatly improve school safety. 

Multiple students including senior Meera Rana, senior Regan Bell, junior Emily Hoelscher, and sophomore Kennedy Porter voiced concerns about unlocked doors. Bell said that if students were more aware of who they let into the building, she would feel safer. 

“We have to keep the doors locked, folks,” Hinze said. He thinks educating students about who they let into the building is important to school safety. Junior Katy Mowery said the alarm buzzer on the front doors makes her feel safer because she knows when someone is coming into the school. 

Ultimately, when it comes to school safety, Hinze said, “We rely on each other. This is not about teachers and students, it’s about us. We need to look out for one another.”