In the aftermath of the recent school shootings in Newtown, Conn., local educators and law enforcement officials are taking a deeper look at their existing school safety plans.
By now, Danville parents should have all received letters from Superintendent Carmen Coleman regarding the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy as well as safety procedures relevant to local students.
“What happened (in Connecticut) is tragic beyond description, and a nightmare I cannot imagine,” Coleman wrote. “All indications are that this was an isolated incident.
“However, we want to remain sensitive to our students and parents, as this is likely to raise questions and concerns about our own safety plans and procedures.”
Director of Facilities Ed McKinney, Danville High Principal Aaron Etherington, School Resource Officer Chase Broach and other officials began re-reviewing safety plan documents as well as each school building over the weekend. They expected to continue to do so throughout this week, McKinney reported at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.
“Based on the accounts provided through the news coverage, it seems likely that many lives were spared thanks to effective planning, practice of drills and the actions taken during the event by many of the teachers and staff members at Sandy Hook,” Coleman said during the meeting. “I have absolutely no doubt our staff would act the same way (if a similar incident occurred in Danville.)”
Each school in Danville has one lockdown drill annually.
Extra lockdown drills will be added to the school safety plan, but not implemented right away in order to avoid further traumatizing students.
“Now is not the time to practice (lockdowns) when people are very sensitive and nervous,” McKinney said.
If an intruder entered any Danville school building, the teachers are trained to lock themselves and their students into classrooms. If a student is out of his ordinary classroom, a teacher will usher him to the closest classroom then inform his regular teacher of the student’s whereabouts.
School and law enforcement officials regularly check doors and windows to ensure they are locked and are increasing those checks in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy.
At the same time, McKinney and other administrators do not want to instill a sense of fear or paranoia among children or older community members.
“We’re a community school and we don’t want people to feel unwanted,” McKinney said.
In Boyle County, officials such as Sheriff Marty Elliott and Boyle Schools Director of Operations Chris Holderman are also re-examining existing school safety plans.
“Everyone has a heightened sense of alertness right now because of what happened in Connecticut,” Elliott said.
“Emergency services and school officials are having a lot more meetings than usual this week.”
Boyle students and teachers regularly practice a variety of emergency drills, including a simulated lockdown in the event of an active shooter in the building, the sheriff said.
“We have numerous staff devoted to the well-being of our students in a variety of ways,” Holderman said. “From counseling to nurses in each school, it is our responsibility to make sure our kids are safe and well in every way.”
Some students have wanted to talk about the event with adults and a few were upset by some of the images they saw on television, Coleman said.
The American Psychological Association indicates if children ask questions, talking with them about their worries and concerns is the first step toward helping them feel safe as well as to cope with the events occurring around them.
Parents are usually a great resource, but school staff members as well as district psychologists are available to discuss students’ feelings about school safety or any other issue, Coleman said.
A few suggestions from the APA are the following:
- Listen to children’s thoughts and point of view; don't interrupt. Allow them to express their ideas and understanding before you respond.
- Remind them you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support.
- Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. After a traumatic event, it is typical for children (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions, including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety.
- Encourage children to put their feelings into words by talking about them or journaling. Some children may find it helpful to express their feelings through art.
“This tragedy is a stark reminder of just how precious life is as well as how fortunate we are to work with our community's children,” Coleman wrote.
Coleman and school board members said during the meeting they would like to reach out to those affected by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, but had not yet decided an appropriate way to do so.
SO YOU KNOW
For more information about school safety or talking to your children after the Connecticut shootings, visit www.kysafeschools.org