Friday’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has forced violence and security in public schools to the forefront, and has raised concern for local campuses.
School superintendents in Cabot, Lonoke and Carlisle said that reviews of standing security procedures would be made and, in some cases, stricter procedures are being put in place.
But, Lonoke schools superintendent Suzanne Bailey wrote in a letter to parents, if a person intends to harm others, “We may or may not be able to control the outcome, no matter how much we practice or provide preventative measures.”
Cabot schools superintendent Tony Thurman echoed Bailey. “Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to totally stop an emotionally unstable person intent on doing bad things. Our priority is to provide as many obstacles as possible for this person to hurt anyone and to ensure that we are able to secure the campus and classrooms as quickly and effectively as possible,” he wrote in a letter to district staff.
Carlisle schools superintendent Jason Clark promised to “fiercely protect” students. “Although the threat for violence is ever present in today’s society, we feel that Carlisle schools are extremely safe and secure; however, you can rest assured that we will remain cautious, vigilant, and will fiercely protect the children that we serve,” he wrote in a letter to parents.
In a response on Friday, Thurman said review of Cabot’s procedures would be done. “I’m sure that every school in the country will be reviewing emergency action plans this week based on the events of last Friday. Our district will certainly do what is necessary and staff will be reminded once more on how to react if we were to deal with such a terrible situation in one of our buildings,” he said.
Bailey reported that a meeting of school personnel was held Monday to review procedures and plans, set dates for practices for crisis drills, and discuss situations with school resource officers; classroom doors will be locked at all times, and will not be unlocked unless the office has contacted the teacher beforehand.
School resource officers are to visit each campus to give more training regarding intruders, Bailey said. Also, buzzer entry systems at each building, more security cameras; and increased district-wide crisis drills were discussed.
Clark said said there would be stricter observance of current controls. “Although it is my desire for Carlisle Schools to remain an inviting place with a small town feel, in light of the latest school shooting we will begin stricter implementation of current security measures to protect our students, staff, and your children,” wrote in a letter to parents.
Clark said that visitors would have to be “buzzed in” at the front doors by office personnel; visitors would sign in at the campus office; and all perimeter doors will remain locked throughout the day. “These measures will apply even at entry and dismissal times,” he said.
Thurman said students were not told of the shootings while at school. “The children would have heard that there was a shooting without any context on where exactly it happened and the details on the shooter that are just now becoming available,” he said in a written response.
“This would have caused much more anxiety, fear and concern with the children than was necessary. “Parents can decide how they want to explain the incident to their children … Parents need to decide the best way and how much information to share with their children since they know them better than anyone else,” Thurman said.
Neither would there be anything posted to the school website, Thurman said. “We will not be posting anything on the district website. The news channels and websites from all over the country will be covered with more information in regard to everything that we could post about this terrible situation,” Thurman said.
Thurman recommended that parents should watch their children for increased anxiety about going to school. “Our counselors and administrators have been made aware and will be ready to assist parents with any child that may be fearful of school [because] of the events today. I highly encourage any parent to contact the school and speak with an administrator or the counselor directly if needed,” he said.
Incidents such as the shooting at Sandy Hook always raise concern about school security, Thurman said. We obviously want to protect every child from harm and I would expect parents to provide input on what we can do when they have an idea on additional security measures. We have to balance a safe and secure environment with the fact that we don’t want kids to feel that they are in lockdown from the time they enter school till the time they go home. We will consider every recommendation regarding security at our schools while confronting the unfortunate reality that there are evil people in the world that will do anything necessary to hurt others.
Cabot Police Department public information officer Lt. Brent Lucas said Monday that all officers are first trained in “active shooter” procedures at the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.
To stay up-to-date, the police department has recurring training using scenarios to practice and learn updated procedures, Lucas said.
Thurman said a meeting with law enforcement and fire and medical response teams to update school and bus safety plans had been scheduled before the shootings on Friday. “This incident only validates the need for us to continually communicate with these agencies,” he said.
Lonoke Chief of Police Mike Wilson said the department and school officials maintain regular contact, and that there are regular training sessions for officers. At least once a year the department conducts an active shooter drill, he said. “The last one we did was in spring,” he said.
Thurman also emphasized that school security also falls to parents.
Everyone is encouraged to immediately report any suspicious individual or actions, Thurman said. “It’s better to check and confirm that everything is okay rather than hope that nothing ever happens,” he said.
Thurman also called on parents and visitors to follow security procedures, “rather than berating staff when [individuals] are asked to provide identification before checking out students or before being allowed to enter student areas.
“School safety requires that everyone work together,” Thurman said.
Clark also called for respect of security procedures. “Although we want to be “welcoming” school district that encourages visitation, volunteering … our safety measures must be adhered to so that you can have confidence in knowing that we are doing everything that we can to protect your children,” he said.
Bailey, too, reminded parents and visitors of security procedures already in place at Lonoke school. All visitors should enter at the front of school and check in at the office to be given a pass; and be prepared to provide proof of identity.
Such tragedies should never happen, Bailey said. Senseless violence is hard to comprehend, but daily routines need to remain in place as much as possible so children are not made to feel unsafe, she said.
“Thanks for your understanding and continue to pray for the folks at Sandy Hook as well as our students,” Clark said.