Tragedy brings safety to forefrontFriday’s elementary school shooting in Connecticut, which left 20 children and six adults dead, has created a national shock wave.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Friday’s elementary school shooting in Connecticut, which left 20 children and six adults dead, has created a national shock wave.
“My heart aches for the families and innocent children … it is numbing to say the least,” said Gregg Lundberg, district administrator for the School District of Maple.
“We too feel the loss and pain they’re going through,” said Sue Chandler, principal of Solon Springs School.
It has also left people asking a question. How safe are schools?
“You’re only able to secure a school to a certain level, it’s not a secure facility,” said Superior Police Chief Charles LaGesse. The key is to have a plan in place, do regular drills and try to identify threats before they happen.
Every district has safety plans on the books. And they hold regular lock down and evacuation drills to reinforce the procedures. Yet in light of the tragic events at Sandy Hook, each of the districts is giving those plans a new look.
A checklist of safety features in the school district of Superior includes video cameras, restricted access and a police presence. Three full-time Superior Police Department liaison officers are on duty at Superior High School and Superior Middle School, and one travels between the district’s six elementary schools. All three are armed.
One of their roles, LaGesse said, is to serve as protection against threats.
Individualized school crisis plans have been in place since 2000 and are reviewed yearly. But Superior administrators are in the process of re-examining them again. Armed with suggestions from building principals, District Administrator Janna Stevens plans to meet with LaGesse today to see if there are any ways to beef up the plans. Any recommendations would be referred to the school board during its regular Jan. 7 meeting, Stevens said.
“We all have the same goal, to have our schools be safe learning environments,” LaGesse said.
Both Superior Middle School and Superior High School have been locked down in recent years due to perceived threats, LaGesse said. While the plans have always worked well, he said, they’ve never been put to the test.
“Good planning only goes so far when somebody breeches security,” he said. The police chief encouraged people to report possible threats before violence erupts.
“We can investigate the situation, determine if there is a threat to others before anyone gets hurt,” LaGesse said.
Each building in the school district of Maple is covered under an emergency management plan. The schools conduct regular lock down, fire and evacuation drills. But the plans are back under scrutiny, Lundberg said. As in Superior, building principals are putting their heads together to address any chinks in the school safety armor.
Solon Springs School has a buzzer and camera system. To enter the locked front door, visitors must buzz in, and if necessary, provide identification. In March, members of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department came to the school and worked with them on areas to improve the plan.
“We take the safety of all of the children in our district to be paramount,” Chandler said. Monday, she reviewed the school safety plan with the superintendent, looking for any weaknesses.
Last year, the district sent home information on what parents should do in case of a lock down such as not rushing to the school immediately and using cell phones to establish contact.
“I think it helps them to know these things,” Chandler said.
The concern following a tragedy like this is that there will be a copycat event.
“That was the concern post-Columbine; that is the concern now,” LaGesse said.
As families in Connecticut bury their children this week, parents in Douglas County can shelter theirs.
“We as adults really need to be the voice of calm and comfort,” Stevens said.
“As a father and a principal, I would encourage you to shelter your child from this traumatic news,” wrote Mark Howard, principal of Lake Superior Elementary School on the district’s website. “However, if your child has had contact with information about this incident, you/we must talk with them and offer the emotional support that is needed to feel safe.”
The National Association of School Psychologists has provided a list of tips for parents and teachers when talking to children about violence. Adults should reassure children they are safe, make time to talk, keep explanations developmentally appropriate, review safety procedures, limit television viewing of the event and maintain a normal routine.
More information is available at www.nasponline.org or http://dpi.wi.gov under the school safety link.