It’s hard to find an area school district that has not faced a threat of violence in the seven school days since the Valentine’s Day massacre in Florida.

The hysteria and anxiety following the shooting deaths of 17 students and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., has sent Ohio police chasing real and rumored threats at most public school districts in Summit and Stark counties.

Though rare — occurring less than once a year since 1990 — school shootings that claim three or more lives almost always trigger a seminal debate over the most effective ways to keep children safe at school. The conversation often takes the controversial turn toward arming teachers, disarming the public or fortifying schools with security measures standard in government buildings.

The breadth and depth of the conversation this time has been exceptional as social media is weaponized by the threat-makers, the Florida shooting survivors, their supporters and communities searching for solutions.

Children are putting pressure on adults to keep them safe. Adults are attacking guns, contemporary culture and each other. The solutions put forward by schools, lawmakers, citizens, gun owners and gun reformers assume the next school shooting is inevitable.

But Dr. Erich Merkle, a past president of the Ohio School Psychologists Association who works in Akron Public Schools, said: “It’s important that we talk about the proactive strategies,” putting emphasis on how to support students and the educators who nurture them so that the next troubled student never feels the need to grab a gun.

Symptoms of a shooter

The Secret Service and FBI, in their guidance to educators and school counselors, warn that there is no single demographic that would profile the next shooter.

Merkle admits that the high-profile mass shootings are often perpetrated by Caucasian boys in suburban school districts, but students capable of acting on suicidal or homicidal thoughts share much more in common.

They’re often outcasts. Marginalized. Disconnected from peers, adults and the community — all of which Merkle says should play a role in supporting wayward students.

Some, instead, are bullied. Many have suffered or are suffering abuse or other traumas that shorten life spans and stunt learning, according to decades of research. Some may have unstable homes. They may be the poor kid in the rich community. “They’re kind of the square pegs that don’t fit in the round holes,” Merkle said. “That’s the reality. There are often cautionary flags. But sometimes there aren’t.”

Risk seekers

There’s little evidence that school shooters announce their intentions. Instead, counselors and school psychologists can help teachers identify bad behavior, assess the risk for violence and provide discipline instead of indiscriminate punishment.

Merkle said knee-jerk reactions to militarize schools or bring back corporal punishment can have adverse effects on the mental health and security of students.

Paddling or expelling students might put an immediate end to bad behavior, “but what does it do in the long term?” Merkle asked. “What it does is teaches aggression to kids. It teaches violence. And it does nothing to help kids shift behavior — to rehabilitate.”

Counselors use bad behavior to diagnose the root problem. Is it for attention, simply to violate social norms or perhaps an indication that something deeper is preventing the child from adapting to stress?

A standard risk assessment in Ohio schools includes a measure of the child’s access to tools that would inflict harm or death. A kindergartner threatening to blow up the school, for example, would be graded less concerning than a teenager with access to guns or materials to create explosives.

Merkle’s solution is social-emotional learning. In a time of focus on core subjects like math and reading, in preparation for standardized tests, he said educators struggle from a lack of resources or time to find opportunities to introduce lessons that build self-worth and empathy, something psychologists stress when providing therapy to adults.

Meanwhile, state education leaders have scrapped requirements that schools employ at least five support staff, including counselors, for every 1,000 students.

Solutions to prevent or react to the next shooting run the gamut.

Streetsboro Mayor Glenn Broska wants a $500,000 levy to place armed sentinels at every school in the city. The school board and parents sounded agreeable last week as the community, in the hours after the mayor announced his plan, began inaccurately attributing an online threat to their school district.

“I’m all for Mayor Broska’s proposal to have armed guards in the school district. I have an 8- and 10-year-old in school and am always glad to have more security,” said Lauren Lehman of Streetsboro.

Wadsworth High School students were told Friday to enter, exit and re-enter the building through one entrance. Three entry points amid the morning rush are now two.

And students were reminded not to come to class with a bookbag, which a seventh-grader in Stark County used to smuggle a weapon and fireworks onto the bus Tuesday morning before fatally shooting himself in the boys’ bathroom at Jackson Memorial Middle School.

Students at several area schools including Cuyahoga Falls High School, Akron’s National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School and Firestone High School are raising awareness by organizing walkouts in March to stand silently outside their schools for 17 minutes — one for each life lost in Florida.

Youths engrossed by digital communication might be the best line of defense in thwarting future attacks.

“ ‘See something and say something’ does work,” Barberton Superintendent Jeff Ramnytz told district parents Friday morning after students brought a threat against schools in Barberton and Norton to an uneventful resolution. “I use it as a teachable lesson,” said Principal Pat Nugent, whose sixth- and seventh-graders tipped off teachers and authorities about an ambiguous plot to attack an unnamed school in Akron on Thursday. “We want our kids to report anything they might see on Snapchat or Twitter that might be related to violence.”

Some protectors are looking at Southwestern High School in Indiana: “the safest school in America,” where $400,000 bought bulletproof doors, cameras that feed live footage to the local police and ceiling-mounted canisters that fill hallways with disorienting smoke in the event of an active shooter.

President Donald Trump has suggested bonuses for teachers willing to return fire, likely against a current or former student. Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones and the Buckeye Firearm Association offer to train teachers for free.

With near-record high approval in several public opinion surveys, calls for tougher gun laws range from nonstarters for Second Amendment advocates like bans on the military-style rifles often used in America’s deadliest mass shootings to more conciliatory measures like strengthening background checks or upping from 18 to 21 the eligible age of gun buyers.

History lesson

Following mass school shootings in Chardon and Sandy Hook, Conn., Ohio lawmakers responded by relaxing rules for arming teachers and pushing the cost of fortifying schools onto local communities.

Local school boards began voting to arm teachers, whose identities may be kept secret for their own protection. Senate Bill 42 allowed Ohio schools to seek tax levies for the sole purpose of safety and security.

Only three times have schools tried: twice in a rural district west of Toledo and once in Norton. Two out of the three levies failed as administrators recognized that the public gets tired of repeatedly being asked for new money.

A bill that passed in 2014, a month after a Brimfield police officer’s gun accidentally went off inside Field High School, shielded educators whose guns go off in school from being sued.

Armed teachers

Educators, including the associations that represent them and other school officials, largely reject the idea of turning schools into fortresses or carrying a loaded gun.

Anne Harmon teaches senior English at Ellet High School, where a student was charged with threatening to re-create the Florida shooting. “I certainly don’t want to be armed myself,” Harmon said. “That is not something I’m trained to do, nor is it something I’d like to be trained to do.”

Harmon, a Peace Corps volunteer from 2006 to 2008, prefers the soft, proactive approach.

“We have a duty to build a culture and look out for one another,” she said. “… If we can create a culture where students believe we care about them, then we’ll have safety.”

Jim Irvine is the board president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, which trains educators for active-shooter scenarios through the FASTER program, which stands for Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response.

The free two- to three-day course on intensive gun handling and medical treatment helps teachers tap into a mindset of saving kids’ lives. It’s free, depending on available funds and whether the teacher’s school district allows educators to carry.

The organization, which has trained 1,200 people from more than 200 school districts across Ohio, doesn’t report which districts or educators have participated. Irvine said interest, as it did after Sandy Hook, has spiked again in the past week. All training slots are currently filled.

“When we first started, we never knew it would be like this,” Irvine said. “The schools care about safety of kids. What we do is show them that there is a different model [of defense], it’s proven, and it works.”

Also since Sandy Hook, local school districts have increasingly required teachers to undergo active-shooter training, the most common called ALICE, or Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The training prepares teachers to know when to run, hide or fight — and to exercise routines that sometimes involve students exiting the building through windows and running to a nearby safe location.

The training improves with each violent incident. The Florida shooting, for example, is a reminder that fire alarms can be used to push students into a hallway to be slaughtered.

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com and Theresa Cottom at 330-996-3216 or tcottom@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow them on Twitter at @ABJDoug or @Theresa_Cottom or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92.