U.S. school districts react to Newtown shootings


Families grieve in Newtown. (Reuters)

School districts in the greater Washington area and around the country are reacting to the deadly Connecticut school shootings by reviewing crisis procedures, reassessing school access policies, stepping up security, and offering resources to help students cope with the tragedy.

School leaders have sent condolences to the Newtown community, as well as messages to families in their own communities assuring them that their schools are safe. School counselors and other professionals are preparing to help students who want to talk about their sadness and fear when they return to classrooms on Monday. And districts have posted advice for parents and teachers on how parents can help their families absorb the news.

The Jeffco Public School District in Colorado, home of Columbine High School, site of the 1999 shootings by two students who killed 12 students and a teacher, and wounded 23 others, issued a statement that said:

Jeffco Public Schools is heartbroken for the families and the community in Connecticut that have lost innocent lives.  Their loss is unfathomable and profound – we hold them in our hearts and prayers.

 

Please be assured that our staff does everything they can to keep your children safe.  Safety precautions are a part of every school day and our staff is always vigilant.  We will heighten our awareness even more over the next week and will continue to protect your children while they are in our care.

 

In Aurora, Colo., site of a mass shooting last summer at a movie theater that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded, the school district’s superintendent,  John L. Barry issued a statement to families that said in part:

The Aurora Police Department has assured us that there have been no threats to schools in Aurora.  If you see more police officers in the area, please do not be alarmed.  Aurora police are increasing their presence in our neighborhoods as a precaution in response to the tragedy in Connecticut.

 

Alvin L. Crawley, the interim superintendent of public schools in Prince George’s County, Md., issued a statement of condolence to Newtown that also said it was time for Americans to do something to prevent a repeat. It said in part:

Schools are safe havens for our children. As a society, we must come together to ensure that this type of callous incident does not happen again.”


Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III sent a message to families assuring them of the soundness of the district’s security plans and adding:

I have sent a memorandum to our principals to make sure they review and reinforce all school security measures that are in place, particularly with regard to controlling access to our schools.

 In Montgomery County, Md., Superintendent Joshua Starr  issued a statement that said in part:

..As a father, I grieve for the families and the community of Newtown. As an educator, I know the worry and concern that such a tragedy sends throughout every community. We take the safety and security of our students and staff very seriously and work every day to make sure that our children are learning in a safe environment. We will continue to make safety a top priority.

 

We know that it is difficult for parents to talk about this kind of violence with their children. To assist in these conversations, we have posted some helpful resources on the front page of our website, www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org. In addition, school counselors will be available on Monday to help students or staff cope with the emotions and feelings that naturally occur following a such a tragedy.

 

Fairfax County Public Schools, like most other school districts,  has a resource page with Web sites that offer advice on coping during a crisis. The Austin Independent School District in Texas assured parents in a statement on its site that “counselors, child study system professionals and the district’s crisis response team, which is composed of licensed social workers and licensed counselors, are trained and prepared to provide support for students during their school day.”  In Seattle, José Banda, the superintendent of public schools, issued a statement to district families that said school principals had been asked “to be extra vigilant” and advising parents about how to talk to their children about the tragedy.

New York City Public Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said in a statement to schools leaders: 

In the wake of such an event, you and members of your school community may be faced with questions about your own safety. We have been in constant communication with the NYPD and their School Safety Division, whose vigilance keeps our schools safe. I know that each of you has done a lot to prepare your Building Response Team to work with first responders in the event of an emergency. I encourage you to guide your staff and students in maintaining your school’s regular schedule and continuing to be sensitive to the needs of your students as they learn more about this loss. Crisis intervention resources and support strategies are posted on the Youth Development page on the Principals’ Portal, and your network is available to support you if you need additional assistance.

 The Newtown Public School District’s Web site was not working Saturday morning. 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | December 15, 2012