BLUE ASH, Ohio — Even educators in districts like Sycamore Community Schools, which comprises seven schools and a little over 5,000 students, can't discount the possibility of a school shooting, district support service director David Foster said Friday. He anticipates the task of keeping students safe is likely to become more difficult.
"It's a heavy responsibility; it's going to continue to get bigger," he said.
As school shootings continue to claim lives and make headlines across the United States, his district hopes to mitigate the threat by conscripting a new line of defense: Its custodians.
C.J. Osborn's 26 years at Blue Ash Elementary School have included hours upon hours of fixing, cleaning and — his favorite ‚ spending time with students.
"You get a lot of talking, a lot of fist bumps and messing around, playing jokes on them," he said. "It's a lot of fun."
As of Friday, he and other custodians in Sycamore Community Schools have a new responsibility: Protecting those students in case an active shooter enters their building. According to Foster, maintenance and custodial staff often have greater familiarity with the layout of their building than other staffers, and they're more likely to be the first to see a threat enter the building.
"The shooting in New Mexico in December, it was a custodian in the hallway who was able to stop that shooting from continuing," Foster said. "I thought it was important that we train these folks in case that the inevitable does happen here."
Osborn and dozens of other school custodians completed a two-hour active shooter response training that included simulated shots — "I want them to hear what it's like for gunfire to go off," Foster said — as well as strategizing which doors would be best to barricade in order to keep a shooter out and rehearsing the correct way to inform students and teachers of the situation.
The training concluded with an active-shooter drill in which some ran, some barricaded and Osborn hid, waiting to take down the ersatz gunman.
"I like the kids," Osborn said. "I love the kids. So, I'm here to protect the kids if I have to. (Parents) should feel good that we really care about their kids, and we're here to protect them if we have to."
Twenty-six years ago, Osborn was only responsible for the building. Now, he and his fellow custodians will be expected to protect something far more important if a person intending to do harm walks into that building.