Updated January 8, 2013
As we begin the second half of our school year, the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, is still on our minds. It is difficult to comprehend what happened and we grieve the loss of the children, teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
We are committed to the safety of our children and staff and we have been working to create positive, safe schools for years. We are well ahead of many area districts. Any changes we make to our procedures now will be based on thoughtful, measured decisions that produce real improvements to school security.
We know parents are troubled by this event and may want to know more about school safeguards and security measures in our district.
The safety of our students and staff is our first priority. We are reviewing every piece of our security practices and plans and expediting security upgrades that we had previously planned. We have been in ongoing communication with local law enforcement and emergency management officials to insure our emergency management procedures are current and aligned with best practices. With our large district, we need a process to address the improvements and we are underway.
Toward that end, all principals, assistant principals and central office staff who work in schools were asked to complete a FEMA crisis management training program over the holidays as a refresher for good safety procedures. We have reviewed our safety procedures with local law enforcement and are in communication with the state. Our maintenance and security staffs are reviewing access and safety measures in every school, with help from school staff. We want to make sure procedures are consistent and in place and that safety devices are up to date. We remind visitors they must sign in and out and wear visitor IDs in district facilities.
Thank you for continuing to observe and follow all of the safety procedures currently in place.
Our middle and high schools have School Resource Officers who are sworn Metro Police Officers employed by the Metro Police Department. We believe any armed staff in our schools should be fully-trained uniformed police officers.
We are in a better position to keep our schools safe when we limit detailed discussion of our security measures to those who need to know the details. Consequently, if you have concerns about the specifics in your school, please talk to your principal, who can address your concerns or share them with our security and facilities staff as appropriate.
So that we can all help our children emotionally process this disturbing news and continue to feel safe at school and home, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has put together a number of suggestions and tips for families. The NASP website has even more, including tips translated into several languages.
It is important to keep in mind that an event like this is rare. Schools are one of the safest places for children and youth during the school day, and an important place for them to receive support and return to normalcy.
Communication and collaboration among schools, parents, and communities is critical to ensure that our students continue to view schools as safe, caring, and supportive environments. How adults react to this tragedy can shape the way children and youth react and their perceptions of safety.
Educators can reinforce students’ sense of safety by making classrooms predictable and welcoming, providing access to mental health supports as needed, and connecting families with other available resources after school hours.
Families are encouraged to spend time together, validate children’s feelings, ask for help as needed, and find calm and relaxing activities to do at home.
It is very important to limit children’s exposure to media coverage, particularly for young children. If children are watching the news or accessing information online, parents and caregivers should be available to talk to their children about it.
Families and educators will serve on the frontline of helping children understand and cope with this violence and loss of life. Most children and youth are resilient and will cope well with the support and caring of their families, teachers, friends, and other caring adults. However, young children may have particular difficulty understanding and describing their feelings and emotions.
Some tips to help children include:
- Provide a developmentally appropriate, clear, and straightforward explanation of the event
- Return to normalcy and routine to the best extent possible while maintaining flexibility
- Let children know it’s okay to feel upset or angry
- Be a good listener and observer
- Provide various ways for children to express emotion, either through journaling, writing letters, talking, making a collage, or music
- Focus on resiliency as well as the compassion of others