In the wake of the mass school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 28 dead, 20 of whom were children, local school system officials found themselves shaken by the horrific news.
Though the shooting occurred nearly 1,000 miles away, it’s a tragedy that hits home for any parent, child, school-affiliated employee, and American.
Floyd County and Rome City officials said they feel unexplainable grief for the families affected by the shooting and are taking a close look at their own emergency procedures.
“It’s just a terrible tragedy for someone to go into a school and kill students,” said Lucian Harris, interim superintendent for Rome City Schools. “My heart goes out to the parents.”
Harris said the school system does have an emergency procedure in the event that a gunman would walk through the doors.
“We have a lock down procedure,” he said. “If we have any indication that someone is angry and might do something like this, the
principals have been told to lock the doors of schools.”
But the faculty at Sandy Hook had no warning. Harris said that it’s protocol for any school visitors to check in at the front offices.
In the event that someone armed sporadically went into a Rome City Schools building with the intention to kill students and teachers, Harris said the faculty would do what they could to make sure the students and themselves were safe to the best of their abilities.
“We would have to do exactly what the teachers are doing in Connecticut, get students to a secure location, calling 911 and trying to get as much help from police and fire and emergency people,” he said. “You have no knowledge that something like this could happen, but you have to prepare for it because something like this could happen everywhere.”
He said he is going to take a very close look at the school system’s emergency procedures and meet with faculty members as soon as possible to discuss the tragedy and what they can do to prepare for such a crime.
“Hopefully we won’t have anything like this in Rome, Ga., but we need to talk about it and be as prepared as possible,” Harris said. “I just think that, we pray nothing like this would happen, but at the same time, as an administrative group, when we come back together (from the holiday break), I am going to meet with them and we’re just going to review and talk about our lockdown procedures. I pray to God we don’t ever have anything like this in our school system.”
Floyd County Schools Superintendent Jeff McDaniel said the tragedy was at the top of the prayer lists of system members all day on Friday and will continue to be so in the weeks and months to come.
“I don’t think I ran into anyone who wasn’t shaken by it today,” he said. “I know our parents are concerned, and our schools will be there to assist the students.”
McDaniel said that school counselors will be ready and prepared to help any student who may feel as though he or she needs to talk about the shooting. He encouraged parents who believe their child may need to talk to a counselor to send a note with the student to school on Monday morning.
He also sent out a letter to parents with helpful tips about how to keep children calm who may be upset by the news.
McDaniel said the school’s security procedures are reviewed each year, and they actively practice with students and teachers.
“We don’t just put those things on paper and file them away,” McDaniel said. “We practice them and drill our teachers on what to do.”
He said the systems team up with trained professionals such as local law enforcement and other emergency officials to ensure the plans are the best they could be for the students’ safety.
Meanwhile, he said that the Floyd County Schools system would continue to send their sympathies toward Newtown, Conn.
“We want our community to know and Connecticut to know that we’re going to have them in our thoughts and prayers,” McDaniel said.
Tim Hensley, assistant to the superintendent, said while the school system feels prepared in case such a heinous crime should occur, they hope to never have to put them into effect.
“We continue to plan and drill for the unexpected, whether natural disasters or acts of violence,” Hensley said. “We hope to never use those plans, but we know it is necessary to expect the unexpected and be prepared.”
He said in school surveys, the feeling that Floyd County schools are a safe learning environment has consistently been the highest rated response to any question asked.
“We feel that is because we do prepare our staff and students,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and the community of Newtown. This impacts more than just a school and those who lost loved ones, but everyone with children.”
FLOYD COUNTY SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT’s LETTER TO FAMILIES
Editor’s note: The following message from Floyd County Schools Superintendent Jeff McDaniel was emailed to Floyd County families Friday afternoon following the school shooting incident in Newtown, Conn.:
Message to Floyd County families,
By now, I am sure you have heard about the tragic school shooting that occurred today at an elementary school in Connecticut. No doubt there will be extensive coverage of this on the news and much discussion about it in our communities in the coming days.
I want to assure you that safety of our students is our top priority and that our schools have a comprehensive crisis plan in place to help avoid tragedies such as this. The plan is reviewed and updated annually. We ask you to please help by being our eyes and ears and assist us in any way you can to improve safety in our schools and our community.
I also want to share with you some tips from the National Association of School Psychologists for helping your children cope with news such as this.
What Parents Can Do:
1. Focus on your children over the week following the tragedy. Tell them you love them and everything will be okay. Try to help them understand what has happened, keeping in mind their developmental level.
2. Make time to talk with your children. Remember if you do not talk to your children about this incident someone else will. Take some time and determine what you wish to say.
3. Stay close to your children. Your physical presence will reassure them and give you the opportunity to monitor their reaction. Many children will want actual physical contact. Give plenty of hugs. Let them sit close to you, and make sure to take extra time at bedtime to cuddle and to reassure them that they are loved and safe.
4. Limit your child’s television viewing of these events. If they must watch, watch with them for a brief time; then turn the set off. Don’t sit mesmerized re-watching the same events over and over again.
5. Maintain a “normal” routine. To the extent possible stick to your family’s normal routine for dinner, homework, chores, bedtime, etc., but don’t be inflexible. Children may have a hard time concentrating on schoolwork or falling asleep at night.
6. Spend extra time reading or playing quiet games with your children before bed. These activities are calming, foster a sense of closeness and security, and reinforce a sense of normalcy. Spend more time tucking them in. Let them sleep with a light on if they ask for it.
7. Safeguard your children’s physical health. Stress can take a physical toll on children as well as adults. Make sure your children get appropriate sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
8. Consider praying or thinking hopeful thoughts for the victims and their families. It may be a good time to take your children to your place of worship, write a poem, or draw a picture to help your child express their feelings and feel that they are somehow supporting the victims and their families.
9. Find out what resources your school has in place to help children cope. Most schools are likely to be open and often are a good place for children to regain a sense of normalcy. Being with their friends and teachers can help. Schools should also have a plan for making counseling available to children and adults who need it.
If you have concerns about your child’s reaction to this news, please contact your school and request that your child talk with the school counselor.
As a parent, I am shaken by today’s events, as I know you are. Please continue to keep the community of Newtown and the students, teachers and parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School in your thoughts and prayers in the coming weeks.
Dr. Jeff McDaniel
Floyd County Schools