Sounding the Alarm: How some local schools are failing to protect your child

Northwest Ohio (WTOL) - From fires to shootings, parents have a lot to worry about when they send their kids to school in the morning. Mandatory emergency drills in Ohio are in place to keep students safe. In fact, there are several drills that schools must do throughout the year.

But are the schools making the grade?

A WTOL 11 investigation revealed many schools are missing important drills while others are reporting them incorrectly.

On a typical day at Patrick Henry Elementary in Hamler, Ohio,  kids are moving about from class to class. But the principal knows that can all change in a moment with a fire or other disaster.

"The main thing is you never want to regret," said Principal Bryan Hieber. "You never want to say, 'I wish I would have done this.'"

State law in Ohio requires every school to meet the following requirements each school year:

  • One emergency evacuation drill in the first 10 days
  • Nine emergency evacuation or school safety drills a year
    • Only six are required if smoke detectors or sprinkler systems are in the buildings
  • One emergency evacuation or school safety drill each month
  • One school safety drill per year
  • One tornado drill in each month of tornado season (April through July)

See full results from Northwest Ohio here

Emergency evacuation drills are typical fire drills while school safety drills are to prepare for terrorism threats or someone with a deadly weapon. Schools must also record when they do the drills and send a report to the State Fire Marshal twice a year.

We poured through the results of more than 80 schools throughout Northwest Ohio.

Since it's too hard to track if school buildings have sprinklers or smoke detectors, we focused on how the schools did on the four other requirements.

Twenty-two schools met all four requirements in 2014-15, including Deshler Elementary. Deshler has since closed and students now go to Patrick Henry Elementary, but data is not available for the new school.

Patrick Henry's middle and high school also met all four requirements.

"We take it very seriously," said Hieber. "It even goes all the way back into the summer before the start of the year. Our administrative team sits down and we plan out every month, when we're doing our evacuation drill, our safety drill, our tornado drills."

Going off of the records provided by the State Fire Marshal's office, 18 of the schools analyzed met three of the four requirements.

But 25 schools only met two of the four. Even worse, three schools only met one requirement.

During the most recent school year available, 2014-15, Swanton High School did not do an emergency evacuation drill in the first ten days, didn't do a drill each month and failed to do a tornado drill in April.

Swanton Superintendent Jeff Schlade declined an on-camera interview but said they now use the software program Navigate Prepared, which helps them plan and track their drills.

In a statement, Schlade said:

"We reasonably believe that if there was an issue with how we are or are not conducting drills when it comes to frequency, etc. that would be addressed then and there by the fire official. That has not been the case with any of our school buildings, because we take the issue of students and staff safety very seriously.

Schlade also shared the results from the most recent, completed school year - 2015-16. The latest record shows that Swanton High School improved, meeting three of the four requirements.

In Sylvania, Southview High School's records with the state for 2014-15 show the school only met one of four requirements. No drills were recorded from September through February.

"As a result of us meeting and talking today, we did a little digging as well," said Sylvania superintendent Scott Nelson.

He then checked with the Sylvania Fire Department, and they determined Southview actually did their drills, but the school secretary, who normally documents them, was out for surgery during those months.

But Nelson admitted improvements still have to be made.

"We're going to look into that and make sure that if there is a discrepancy, we're going to take care of it," he said. "And whether it's just that - we didn't fill it out correctly - no excuses. We need to do that."

Records from 2013-14 show that North Baltimore Middle-High School also met only one of four requirements. But Superintendent Ryan Delaney insists they conduct drills every month as a standard procedure.

The Chief of Fire Prevention for the Oregon Fire Department, Mark Mullins, said doing the drills is crucial to kids' safety.

"It doesn't make me mad; it makes me curious on why," Mullins said. "Makes me think about why didn't they get done. And those are the questions that need to be answered."

Mullins said school districts can meet with board members and the community to make sure the drills are a priority.

"From the worst to the best, the worst-case scenario is we don't want to lose a child," said Mullins. "The best-case scenario is everybody gets out and maybe there's a few injuries. I'm not willing to risk that."

Toledo Public Schools is the largest district in Northwest Ohio. We requested records for ten schools but only Birmingham was on file with the State Fire Marshal. The records must be sent twice a year, but TPS leaders said their principals thought they only had to be kept inside the school buildings.

Because of our investigation, Deputy Superintendent Brian Murphy said they will require every school's records to go to a centralized location to then be shared with the State Fire Marshal.

Updated records for TPS showed that Start High met none of the four standards in 2015-16. Leverette, Byrnedale and Bowsher met only one.

When asked if he was concerned about that, Murphy said:

"Yeah, I know that all the schools are having the drills, and it's a matter of taking a look at the timeline to ensure that we hit those timelines. And if the state wants us to have them done once a month, then we need to make sure that that happens. We certainly are going to take a look at that information to ensure that we're abiding by those standards across the district as well."

The State Fire Marshal can issue citations for schools that don't share their records.

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