Preparation paid off for Ontario High School after threat of violence

Principal Jodi Elizondo of Ontario High School said fast action by her staff and local police allowed her staff to defuse a potential threat to the school last week. (The Enterprise/John L. Braese)

ONTARIO – The first thought that came to Jodi Elizondo was her students and then, just as quickly, her son.

Elizondo, Ontario High School principal, coordinated the effort last Thursday to defuse a potential security threat to the 700 students. That included her son, a junior.

A student tipped authorities that a sophomore at the school had made threatening remarks. School and police officials reacted instantly, leading to the arrest of the student.

A day and seemingly a lifetime later, Elizondo in an interview exhibited a certain degree of satisfaction because the security measures her school put into place worked.

Preparation, she said, paid off.

“We knew our protocol. We knew how to isolate the threat,” said Elizondo. “I am very pleased with how quickly and flawlessly we were able to collaborate and pull together everyone who needed to be involved.”

The school day on March 1 started like any other at the big high school. Students congregated at lockers as teachers prepared lessons.

Shortly before noon, the day’s routine was upended.

Elizondo said a student told a teacher that a 15-year-old student had threatened classmates and the high school.

 “Within five minutes of receiving the information, we isolated the threat, started the process so that there was no danger from that point on,” said Elizondo.

That meant pulling the 15-year-old out of class, questioning him and then searching his backpack.

Elizondo also said the high school and the Ontario School District turned to social media – especially Facebook – to get the word out about the incident.

Students and teachers are on alert for any sign of a threat. Nyssa High School last month had to deal with a report a student threatened to shoot up the school. Police established that a student misunderstood what he heard and there was no threat.

Still, a deadly school shooting at a Florida high school two weeks ago appears to be prompting more threats. The Educator’s School Safety Network reports on its website that the county has logged an average of 72 threats or safety incidents every day since the deadly high school shooting.

The nation now is grappling with the broader subject of gun control after the Flordia school shooting. U.S. Rep Greg Walden, R-Hood River, told Oregon Public Broadcasting over the weekend he favors some ideas for tighter controls under consideration in Congress.

Some states – such as Rhode Island and Oregon – moved quickly in the wake of the Florida shooting to establish stricter gun control. In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order allowing authorities to seize guns from people who are a danger to themselves and others. Just a day after the Florida shooting, the Oregon House approved legislation banning those convicted of domestic violence or stalking from buying or owning the guns. The legislation – House Bill 4145 – was eventually passed and sent to Gov. Kate Brown to enact.

Twenty-five years ago, a school shooting was rare and every rural high school graduate between 1970 and the mid-1990s can remember pickups in the parking lot with full gun racks.

But times have changed, said Elizondo. She said she wasn’t surprised by Thursday’s events.

“I think we are just living in a different time and we are raising kids who are a more disconnected society and they live in a hidden society within social media. Again, we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,” said Elizondo.

Elizondo said the Florida shooting prompted her to review the security measures at the school. “I don’t know if it will necessarily change what we’ve already been reviewing. The reality is we are dealing with a 70-year-old building with 52 entrance points,” said Elizondo.

Elizondo said one challenge is the array of potential threats.

“We know there is a threat out there and we have to plan for it but the threat can be so varied and you are hoping you are effective,” said Elizondo.

Elizondo said the school will continue to refine its measures to react to a potential threat. She said the safety of the students is a priority but admitted that when a threat – whether real or not – arises, it is especially poignant for her.

“I don’t think it could resonate any more. I don’t mean to be cliché but I can’t imagine coming in and finding any one of my students harmed. And when I plan I am obviously planning for my own son as well,” said Elizondo.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or at (541) 473-3377.