JACKSON TWP.  The mood was light as people offered each other smiles and hellos as the purple gym at Jackson Memorial Middle School began to fill with teachers, staff, students and Jackson Township residents. Superintendent Christopher DiLoreto was trying to greet everyone who came through the doors with a handshake and a few comments.

There were news cameras set up along both sides and along the back of the gym from the major Cleveland news channels.

The gym began to get quiet when the school board members took their seats as the scheduled time approached for the regular board of education meeting to begin. After the regular business was taken care such as the pledge of allegiance and other primarily actions, DiLoreto began walking through the audience.

As he began to walk, he talked about the occurrences of the Tuesday morning just a week earlier when 13-year-old Keith Simons snuck a 22-caliber rifle into one of the school’s boy’s restrooms and fatally shot himself.

The middle school student was taken to Children’s Hospital Medical Center where he passed away the next day. Nobody else was injured in the incident. DiLoreto said the day was a challenging day for education and for teachers, students, staff and parents.

"Tuesday last week started off as a typical school day, parents were dropping their children off to the care and control of the district, and I hope everyone knows how serious we take that responsibility and as superintendent, I own that responsibility," he said.

Tuesday morning phone call

"That morning I got a phone call about 10 till 8 (a.m.) and was told there was a student with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the restroom. I jumped into my truck, told Assistant Superintendent Barry Mason what we had, we grabbed our management plan and made our way to the middle school as hot as we could."

He said police were arriving and the scene was being secured. The high school was locked down because officials were not sure what kind of incident was taking place. The FBI, Stark County Sheriff Department, Jackson Township Police Department, the Highway Patrol, Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on scene and they immediately took over the school district and it became a crime scene.

Law enforcement had to determine if it was an isolated incident and if the student was working alone or with others. DiLoreto said the district was working to get information out to parents in a timely manner.

"There was a lot of frustration that day with how long we had to wait. I wish that process could have happened quicker. We had to move our kids safely and not put them in another area where they could possibly be at risk," DiLoreto said.

All of the 1,400 students were moved to the purple gym until they were eventually released to parents. Students were moved "methodically" in groups of 10 to 15 at a time. Part of the release plan was to verify each student was being released to his or her parent. 

Reassuring safety and security measures

Because of the sensitive nature and the uncertainty of what people might do with the information, DiLoreto would only discuss basic security measures and protocols with the people in the room.

He told parents that the district’s security plan has been reviewed by the district’s safety committee and the security advisory council as well as the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio attorney general.

DiLoreto said the district was planning to replace the video surveillance systems on all of the school buses. Other steps include continuing to meet with law enforcement in the county to find best practices for safety and security.

DiLoreto also addressed returning to school the day after the shooting saying he beleives that "our kids needed us more than ever and our staff needed to be with each other and with the kids."

Improved communications

While most of the people in the audience as well as the board members praised DiLoreto and the teachers and staff at the district for the actions they took on that morning, many of the questions asked by parents revolved around the communications between the school and the parents.

The district used its emergency call system to notify parents. The system includes more than 6,000 phone numbers and can take up to 20 minutes to complete. One parent suggested the district look at a text messaging system to notify parents.

"It was a very trying several hours and I could see the worry on everyone’s faces while they were waiting to pick up their child," said board member Thomas Winkhart, who was in the building the day of the shooting. "I’ve been on the school board for 17 years and we’ve had an attitude of this kind of thing can’t happen here. About five years ago that attitude shifted to yes, it could happen here. The board is committed to making the resources available to help keep our kids safe," he added.

We begin and end as family

DiLoreto told parents that the district will continue to improve its management plan through roundtable discussions with staff and listening to suggestions from parents.

He offered a checklist of items parents can do at home including monitoring their child’s social media presence, secure family firearms, secure prescription drugs within the home, avoid spreading false information and monitor child’s video game usage.

"This issue needs everyone’s help," DiLoreto said. "Other things may change us, but we begin and end as a family starting with us and the people in this room."

OTHER ACTIONS:

- Authorized the purchase of five camera video surveillance systems for all the district’s 83 buses at a cost of $202,169. The new systems will replace the current three camera systems used on the buses. 

- Heard the district’s required Bullying Semi-Annual Incident Report where 12 incidents were reported with seven of those incidents substantiated and received appropriate discipline and other actions between July 1 and December 31, 2017.

- Approved two easements, one at Jackson Memorial Middle School and one at Strausser Elementary, for Massillon Cable TV to install and maintain fiber optics telecommunications.

- Approved a list of 485 potential 2018 graduates.

- Authorized waiving the competitive bidding for security purchases. When more than $50,000 is spent on an expenditure, the district is required to acquire competitive bids for the purchase. With the competitive bidding waived, the district can make purchases of security items without going through the bidding process.

- Heard the district was awarded the Auditor of the State once again. The board and the superintendent thanked treasurer Linda Paris and her team for their exemplary service.

- Went into executive session to discuss employment issues and details relative to security arrangements and emergency response protocols, with no action taken.

UP NEXT: The board will meet at 5 p.m. March 20 at Jackson High School, 7600 Fulton Drive NW.