ORANGE PARK – More than 300 participants from 15 agencies gathered in the Ridgeview High cafeteria for a reunification exercise on Monday, including the Clay County School District Police Department.
John Ward, who transitioned from Clay County Emergency Management Director to the Clay County School District Director of Operations, Safety and Security last month, led the reunification charge and part of the district’s school shooting emergency training.
“So today is a continuation of our training last year,” Ward said. “Last year, we did an active shooter exercise with all of the administrators and first response agencies. This is a continuation of that. The threat has been neutralized and now we’ve got to the reunification process to get the students back to the families.”
Ward said reunification is everything that happens after the school shooter has been neutralized. This includes reuniting students with their parents, even if it’s at the hospital. This starts the process where police agencies can begin interviewing those on the scene. Finally, mental health counselors would begin consoling traumatized students.
“If someone sees another person shot in front of them, or if they’re feeling any kind of trauma, mental health counselors will always be on the scene to begin that process,” Ward said. “That’s why we have counselors, government agencies, law enforcement and more here. Everyone here is a part of this critical step in the process.”
Ward couldn’t share any further details but said that together, everyone in the cafeteria was being trained to be fully prepared if a school shooting occurred in the district.
The training was to impress everyone’s roles during an emergency, according to the school district police department chief, Kenneth Wagner.
“One of our roles is to work collaboratively with the sheriff’s office, municipal agencies and state agencies to ensure we have a unified command force should something undesirable happen in our district,” Wagner said. “This training today is for all of us to work together so that we have good working knowledge and hands-on experience if the day should ever arrive where we need it.”
Wagner said 43 of his resource officers were present at the training. That’s four less of the entire Clay County School District Police Force. The four that weren’t present had other police department business, Wagner said.
According to Wagner, professional development and training is underway. All officers will be in uniform and sworn in during the regular school board meeting in August.
Superintendent Addison Davis said the experience level of the district’s police force ranges from 12 to 28 years.
“The average experience of our officers is around 20 years so the officers protecting our children are not new,” Davis said. “They are seasoned veterans and with training sessions like this one today, and everything else we’re doing, our schools will be protected.”