School system responds to Newtown shooting

Dec. 18, 2012 @ 08:14 AM

Caldwell County Schools are on soft lockdown through Tuesday, and possibly through the end of the week because of heightened security concerns stemming from the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

A message from Superintendent Dr. Steve Stone was sent to parents of students via voice-mail Sunday evening explaining the changes taking place in all the schools in the system this week. Stone also expressed his sympathy and sorrow to the parents, students, staff, administrators and the community of Newtown, and to those at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the shooting on Friday took place.

Through Tuesday, no student activities outside of the facilities will take place, while normal operations will proceed inside during the day. All doors, except the main entrance, will be locked. School employees have been advised to review the emergency guidelines, which provide actions to take during crisis situations that may occur on a school campus. They have also been advised to review the lockdown procedures that are being used.

Additional security measures are being used this week. Law enforcement agencies have stepped up school patrols in their areas, and providing additional assistance if needed. The soft lockdown also may be extended through the end of the week. A clergy crisis support team is also on standby, and all teachers have been briefed on how to help students cope in the aftermath of a tragedy. If any student needs additional assistance, he or she will be directed to a counselor or social worker. A crisis management team, consisting of all the stakeholders of school safety, including law enforcement, fire marshals, clergy, and school psychologists, has been in place for 19 years. The school system already conducts active shooter drills on occasion as a readiness exercise. Other exercises known as “table-top drills,” in which the team runs through scenarios during roundtable discussions, also are conducted periodically.

Current board policy requires each school’s office staff to ensure all school visitors sign in and sign out at the main entrance. A handful of schools require visitors to ring a doorbell and be “buzzed” into the main entrance, but the school system does not require the main entrance at each school be locked. The crisis management team will, however, discuss that possibility over the Christmas break, said Libby Brown, community services director.

“It’s a logistical issue, and we have left that option up to each school,” Brown said. “Currently, we’re using all the recommendations from the Department of Education and the Governor’s office.”

A moment of silence was observed Monday at 8:20 a.m. in memory of the 27 victims from Friday’s tragedy, including 20 students and six school staff members and the mother of the shooter. Immediately following, all elementary and middle school students were encouraged to share any concerns, and had an opportunity to ask questions about the incident. High school students are taking exams and were not included in the exercise.

South Caldwell senior Emily Byrd is not concerned about such a tragedy happening in her school. However, she is troubled by the event and feels for the families involved.

“I always feel safe here; I don’t feel like anything is going to happen,” Byrd, 17, said. “I don’t know why anybody would want to do that. I feel terrible. No one should have to lose their kids or family members in that way.”

Some schools, including West Caldwell High, were encouraged to wear green and white, the Sandy Hook Elementary School colors, as a show of support. The Lower Creek PTA is planning a vigil on Tuesday evening, Dec. 18, 6:30 p.m. at the school.

“Our thoughts and prayers continue with all those in Newtown, and our prayer is that they heal and recover from this incomprehensible act of violence,” said Dr. Stone.