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Local schools respond to Connecticut shootings

 

By Michael Howell

Schools across the nation, the state and the county are taking a look at their security measures following the devastating news of the shooting spree that left 26 students and teachers dead at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

“We have to take seriously national incidents such as this,” said Corvallis School Superintendent Monte Silk. But, he said, the school did not currently consider a police presence in the halls a necessity nor are any direct presentations to the students planned in response to the incident.

Silk said that the material they have available and are making available to the teachers recommends against any direct presentation of any information to students, especially the youngest elementary school students. Instead, he said, the material advises teachers to answer any questions that the students may present and address the answers as directly as possible without elaborating on the details or presenting any information that was unsolicited by the students themselves.

“We have good plans in place for lockdowns and evacuations and we practice them regularly,” said Silk. He said that they are taking the time to check on the procedures already in place, such as the automatic locks on the doors, to be sure they are working and are reviewing policies such as which doors are left open during school hours. He said every administrator has been out on the sidewalks between classes and before and after school to enhance the students’ feelings of security.

Hamilton School Superintendent Tom Korst said that his schools were also moving quietly but effectively to provide a little extra vigilance and security in response to heightened concerns about security. He said maintenance crews have been asked to do a spot analysis to see if there was anything that should or could be done immediately to enhance security and that he will be working with the School Board to see if any changes need to be made for the long term.

“I think we are ahead of the game here in preparing for an emergency or a crisis,” said Korst. “But it is not a bad thing to have a reality check on our procedures.”

Both superintendents had high praise for the School Resource Officer program that provides for the presence of a Sheriff’s Deputy at the school on a regular basis.

Silk said that the SRO costs the district some money, but that it would be one of the last things he would ever cut from the budget.

“Safe hallways and playgrounds are fundamental,” said Silk. “Whenever there is any question,” said Silk, “we bring in the SRO because he is the professional.” He said the SRO’s role was not only to provide security at the school, but for education as well. He said the students get to know him and learn from him. “It’s a priority position at our school,” he said.

The rise in general concerns about security following the school shooting in Connecticut combined with the apocalyptic predictions circulating about the end of the world, related to the end of a cycle in the Mayan calendar, led the Florence-Carlton School District to send out a letter to parents offering suggestions on how to address their children’s concerns.

In the Stevensville School District some rumors, or perhaps simply rumors about rumors, added to the mix and led Superintendent David Whitesell to call in the local police.

Whitesell stated in an e-mail, “As you may imagine this past week has been tumultuous at best with the concern parents, staff, and students have after the shootings in Connecticut. Add in a dose of speculation regarding the Mayan calendar and a student who had made some threats previous to last Friday and you have all the makings for a group of very unsettled people.”

In response to the situation, Whitesell held an administrators/counselors/school psychologist meeting to discuss the situation with staff and students, and, afterwards, held a staff meeting to outline talking points for teachers and set-up counseling sessions for those children identified as needing such services. A letter was sent to all parents and guardians about the issue as well as a message over SchoolReach, the school’s automatic phone calling system. He also arranged a meeting with Stevensville Mayor Gene Mim Mack and requested a police presence at the school for a few days, “as a show of comfort” to provide some reassurances to the students, faculty and the public.

The local rumors were apparently started by a comment from one individual to another on a Facebook page, according to Stevensville Police Chief James Marble. Marble said that there were some allegations of some threats made but those threats could not be substantiated.

“It looked to us like it was between one individual and another, but then blossomed from there,” said Marble. Marble said two officers were placed in the school, not as a show of force but out of concern for the safety of the children and the faculty.

“The school acted appropriately in mitigating the issue and we were just there to reassure everyone that everything was going to go well,” said Marble. “I think the remarks on the Facebook page got blown out of proportion, but we were not going to take any chances.”

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