The building that houses Elder High School is like Frankenstein’s monster.
It is surgically implanted with security technology to fuse modernity and medieval-inspired architecture together. In the age of mass shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook, it’s a necessary precaution.
Elder is a robust, sturdy institution with knightly heraldry adorning the halls. The all-male Catholic school in Price Hill prides itself on religious tradition, college-preparatory academics and Friday night football.
Despite the school’s high standards, it faces the same gripping reality of school shootings as every other academic institution.
“[Active shooters] are always in the back of my mind,” said Kurt Ruffing, principal and president of Elder. “It can happen anywhere to any school.”
One year ago, the hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were adorned with hearts and cupids to celebrate Valentine’s Day. That afternoon, gunshots rang out.
In response to the deaths of 17 students and staff, surviving students — including Emma González and David Hogg — sparked the #NeverAgain movement and the March for Our Lives demonstration.
Topics concerning gun control, mental health, bump stocks, background checks and armed teachers quickly became a battleground once again for debate and legislation.
Though it steers clear from political debates, Elder has enhanced its security protocols in response to a national increase of school shootings. In the summer of 2015, the school invested roughly $500,000 in campus security.
These investments included installing more security cameras — the school now has 85 — and hiring three retired Cincinnati police officers as a campus security team.
When parents and police officers raised concerns about the school not locking its exterior doors, Elder installed a locking system that is synchronized to the bell schedule.
“Before that, anyone from anywhere could walk through the doors,” said Ruffing.
Brian Flaherty, assistant principal and dean of students at Elder, works directly with school security. He said the Parkland shooting, like all others, put him on high alert. In the year since Parkland, Elder started locking nearly all of its school gates during the day.
Now, the school takes immediate action if there are rumors of an attack on students. Ten years ago, rumors of this nature were not taken as seriously, Flaherty said.
A wave of Elder purple washed around Ruffing as he made his way through the crowded halls. It was purple day — a day where students wear school spirit t-shirts instead of uniforms. It’s homey territory for Ruffing, who graduated from Elder and spent the entirety of his teaching career there.
But Ruffing never thought protecting his alma mater would be a focal point of his job.
Before the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, school shootings “just weren’t something you thought about,” Ruffing said.
The school now brings in a police officer to train faculty with the Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate (ALICE) system, and it performs lockdown drills every month with students. These drills include identifying the intruder, pinpointing his or her location, locking and barricading doors, and occasionally, officers will take a student out of a classroom to see if the teacher notices a missing student.
Through this training, Flaherty wants students to memorize procedures. “We want to put them in as many situations and scenarios as possible so they know how to react,” he said.
This high-intensity approach to active shooter training isn’t unique to high schools, said Maris Herold, UC’s chief of police. It’s important for college students to prepare as well.
“[Schools should] train, educate, and target harden the environment as best as you can,” Herold said in an email. “Muscle memory and knowing how to quickly exit your surroundings is very important.”
“Will they ever be fully prepared for a real situation? No — and you never will be,” said Ruffing.
As it pertains to legislation, gun control in Ohio remained mostly stagnant last year. Former Ohio Governor John Kasich had an A rating with National Rifle Association (NRA), and gun lobbyists and activist groups backed him as a political friend to gun owners.
Kasich flipped his stance a month after the shooting in Parkland.
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was gunned down in the Parkland massacre, addressed the Ohio legislature in March 2018, advocating for new gun restrictions. Kasich supported proposals that would take guns away from people at risk of hurting themselves or others, close gaps in the background check system and ban bump stocks.
In August, a gun-focused bill came to his desk, but it wasn’t the one Kasich wanted.
It was the so-called “Stand Your Ground” bill. Kasich vetoed it, but the state Senate overturned his veto, enacting the law in December 2018 without the stand-your-ground provision attached.
The new law doesn’t put the burden of proof on the defendant if they claim to have shot someone in self-defense. Instead, like 47 other states, prosecutors would be required to prove that a crime was committed.
None of Kasich’s proposals got a hearing in the Ohio legislature. Most gun-related bills, both for and against gun control, never saw the light of day.
And that was it for gun legislation in 2018.
The NRA gave the new Ohio governor Mike DeWine an A rating, despite his ever-changing stance on gun control and claims that he would enhance background checks during election season. DeWine supports the “Stand Your Ground” law.
No matter your political party or personal stance on gun control, Ruffing said he hopes politicians have students’ best interests in mind.
“I’m sure they have children of their own and want to see them protected,” he said.
Elder’s foundations run deep in academia and religion, and its history is seen in the old stones of the school’s entrance where, every day, parents send their sons into the safety of the old building.
“My own son attended Elder, and I had every confidence that he was safe and secure while at school,” Ruffing said. “But you always have to prepare and improve, because it can happen anywhere.”