A months-long internal investigation of the Olathe East High School shooting that left three injured — and a student charged with attempted capital murder — found that the district must improve communication during a school crisis.
As a result, the district announced that for this coming school year, all staff will wear a badge equipped with a button that allows them to call for help during emergencies, and lock down a school if needed. The district also will add more safety personnel at high schools.
At a school board meeting Thursday, officials presented some of their findings from the investigation into the March 4 shooting, where a student and school resource officer exchanged gunfire in the administrative office, leaving both of them, as well as an assistant principal, injured. Since then, the district has been reviewing policies and procedures.
Assistant Superintendent Jim McMullen told the school board that the biggest takeaway was the need for more consistent communication to staff members across all schools during lockdowns.
At Olathe East, students and staff were locked in classrooms for 2 1/2 hours, he said, and could have been better informed. And staff members across buildings have asked for stronger communication districtwide when a school is locked down.
McMullen praised Olathe East’s response to the shooting, as well as the “quick” actions taken by the school resource officer. He applauded school officials’ efforts, but did not address the way administrators responded when they heard a student was carrying a gun at school.
“We did have multiple reviews and meetings with the Olathe Police Department to really just ensure proper protocols, specifically when there’s a weapon and a search for a weapon, and make sure that we’re able to clarify that and clean that up,” he said. “We did the same with all of our secondary administrators in terms of protocols, procedures and expectations.”
McMullen said that the district’s safety division will be completing the internal review within 60 days.
The shooting at Olathe East
On the morning of March 4, Jaylon Elmore, an 18-year-old senior, was brought to the school administrative office after another student reported that he had carried a gun to school, police said.
Assistant Principal Kaleb Stoppel and another administrator escorted Elmore to the office, according to court documents. Stoppel asked Elmore to bring his backpack. And he informed the school resource officer that there might be an issue with a weapon, according to the Johnson County district attorney’s report released last month.
In the office, Stoppel brought up a rumor that someone had a gun at school, the report says, and told Elmore that he’d have to let them search his backpack. Elmore allegedly refused. Stoppel called for school resource officer Erik Clark, who went to the office wearing a police uniform.
When Stoppel asked to search the backpack again, the two stood up and Elmore swung his backpack around. As Stoppel approached, he heard gunfire, according to the report.
Elmore fired his gun, and four shots struck Clark. One of the bullets hit Clark’s body-worn camera, destroying it, the report said. Clark returned fire, police said, striking Elmore twice. Stoppel tackled Elmore, and they fell to the floor. Stoppel was hit twice by gunfire and had gunshot wounds to his thigh and forearm, according to the report, which says he “was mostly likely shot” by the officer.
Clark and Stoppel were released from the hospital later that day. Elmore, who had gunshot wounds to his abdomen and left thigh, was charged with attempted capital murder. He remained in the hospital until May, when he was transferred to the Johnson County jail.
Elmore remains in Johnson County jail on $1 million bond. He is due in court on Aug. 17 for a scheduling conference.
The Johnson County district attorney deemed Clark’s actions justified and declined to file charges against him.
While many in the community praised the school’s response, parents have continued to question whether the officials should have handled the report of a student with a gun differently. And whether they could have de-escalated the situation.
District policy states that principals are allowed to search students if there is “reasonable suspicion” that rules have been violated. The student must be told why a search is being conducted and may be asked to empty bags or pockets. The principal should attempt to call the student’s parent and may call law enforcement.
“If the student refuses to cooperate, the principal may take disciplinary action and/or seek assistance from law enforcement,” the policy states. “… If the principal believes a student is in possession of an object which can jeopardize the health, welfare or safety of the student or others, the student (will) be removed to a safe location.”
On Thursday, McMullen did not provide any other details into the review of district policy and how it was followed on March 4.
School safety plans
Many parents also have called on the school district to consider beefing up security.
Last month, the district announced that all staff members would now be equipped with CrisisAlert, an emergency button on a badge they will wear every day. By pushing the button, staff can alert administration to medical emergencies or a crisis, and can also initiate campus-wide lockdowns if needed. Administrators, officers and first responders would receive the location of the staff member so they could quickly respond.
“We know that building trusted relationships with our students is the best way for our educators to create a safe space for students to learn,” Superintendent Brent Yeager said in a statement. “However, we also recognize that emergency situations can occur at any moment, and it is best to have resources in place to support our students and staff in times of crisis. Our goal is to give our educators peace of mind that they can call for help at anytime, anywhere on school grounds, and they will be heard.”
The Kansas Department of Education awarded Olathe $421,700 in Safe and Secure Schools grant money for the alert system, as well as a secured entrance upgrade, officials said.
The state also has provided grant money to fund five therapist positions in Olathe schools, district officials said earlier this week. And the Olathe Public Schools Foundation is funding therapeutic services at Olathe South High School and Oregon Trail Middle School.
“These programs allow the Olathe Public Schools to provide high quality therapeutic services to all of its students by licensed mental health providers within the school day, minimizing classroom absences, parent time away from their jobs, and at an extremely low or no cost to families,” Angie Salava, director of social emotional learning and mental health services, said in a news release.
Days before the shooting, voters approved the school district’s request to issue $298.3 million in bonds. More than $8 million of that is expected to go toward safety improvements, such as adding more cameras in buildings.
During the school board meeting, Director of Safety Services Brent Kiger said that the bond money will help fund camera upgrades, especially at elementary schools that need updated equipment and more cameras inside of buildings. The district will upgrade locks on doors, plus automate the system for locking exterior doors during the school day. It also is updating its radio communication system.
In addition, officials announced that the district has hired a school safety specialist for each high school. They are all retired Olathe police officers, Kiger said, who will help guide daily security efforts.
The district already has security cameras and resource officers in its buildings, as well as entrances that require visitors to be screened before they are allowed to enter. And it uses the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate) active shooter response protocol, which includes locking down buildings during unsafe situations and requires annual training with students and staff.