Many schools across the nation opened their doors on Monday after a weekend where parents, students, teachers and other school staff questioned what could be done to prevent a school shooting like the one that took the lives of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., on Friday morning.
Locally, Lakota principals emailed and spoke to concerned parents on the phone. They discussed the school’s safety procedures and tips on how to speak with their children about what actually took place in that small Connecticut community.
“Our principals were real busy this weekend. Each one was communicating with the parents about what we were going to be doing on Monday when school reopened,” said Randy Oppenheimer, Lakota’s executive director of media and community relations.
“They were both on the phone and using email to correspond with parents and to tell them what we would be doing today.”
After the news reports started to come in on Friday morning, one of the first Lakota emails came from a principal from an elementary school.
You may have heard that there was a tragic school shooting today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. This is a horrific tragedy as upwards to 20 people have been killed including children.
We have not discussed this incident with your children, as we wanted to leave this delicate conversation to be handled at home as you see fit.
Our prayers go to the families of the victims.
After that initial email, other principals started to email parents. Some emails reassured parents of the school district’s safety procedures. Others touched on how to discuss the tragic event with their children.
Throughout the weekend, it is important to keep normal routines in place. It is also important to limit exposure to television and social media as this will cause increased anxiety for the children. It’s tough for them to understand or make sense as to why something like this could happen. Therapists who treat childhood trauma agree that we should allow children to lead with questions and concerns.
Another part of a different email discussed school safety
In regard to our school safety, let me reassure you of the on-going efforts we have in place to keep the safety and security of our students and staff as our first priority. All Lakota staff … have worked with our school resource officers, Butler County Sheriff’s deputies, West Chester Police Department and received A.L.I.C.E (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training over the past three years. A.L.I.C.E. is a program designed to increase your chances of surviving an active shooter or violent intruder event at school. The program utilizes five key components; Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate and encourages school staff and students to take an active role in their own survival.
The Lakota school district currently has three resource officers – one Butler County Sheriff deputy and two West Chester police officers – who rotate through the district.
Furthermore, on Monday, Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones announced that all his units are being instructed to substantially increase their visibility at all schools within their normal patrol districts, effective immediately.
To help with this order, the Sheriff’s Office is adding at least two additional marked units to be deployed during normal school hours to specifically patrol school grounds.
“Most of the recent victims were young, innocent children. We have to take whatever steps we can to protect our future,” Sheriff Jones said in a release on Monday. “Kids should be safe at school. We have to do anything we can to try to keep them that way.”
In addition to more patrol units, Jones’ office also issued a release, promoting to “put guns IN schools.” In the release, Jones suggests either having law enforcement officers assigned to every school, or having select teachers, administrators trained in firearms and law enforcement techniques to be available in every school building.
According to the release, Jones also promoted this idea shortly after the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech.
“I believe having armed personnel readily available to immediately respond would be a deterrent in and of itself,” Sheriff Jones said.
“It seems that some of these cowardly individuals wind up taking their own lives as soon as the first responders arrive. I think having the first responders already on site makes the most sense to me.”
Behind the scenes in Lakota on Friday afternoon, Superintendent Karen Mantia contacted all of the school district’s principals to have them check and re-check all of their security protocols.
Mantia was unavailable for an interview on Monday for personal reasons, but issued a statement Saturday morning.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all the students and school staff, and their families, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Please know that the safety of our students, our employees, and all visitors, at any Lakota school, is always our highest priority.
On Monday, one Lakota elementary school already made a change to its safety procedures. When trying to enter this particular school, visitors will need to face the door, identify their child’s name, teacher name and nature of their visit. In addition, the visitor will need to have their driver’s license available. Furthermore, the school is requesting that no one open the door for anyone.
Joe Rehm, a parent with two young children (ages seven and 11) in Lakota schools, believes that the person who entered and killed young students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School could have broke into any school in the country.
“All the doors are locked at both of my kids’ schools, but if someone wants to get in they are going to be able to get in,” Rehm said. “You hope that you live in a good enough community and have strong enough schools that they are safe.
“I don’t live my life in fear, but it makes you wonder – could we do more?”
Like Rehm, many other Lakota parents are trying not to live in fear and sent their children to school on Monday. According to Lakota officials, a total of 1,017 students were absent on Monday – down from 1,180 absent students on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011.
“You just hope that every school has some sort of plan in place for crisis reaction,” Rehm said. “I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t if there is an answer, but I do know that you can’t live in fear.”
In respect to the safety of our local children, WestChesterBuzz.com decided to not single out any school or principal for this story.