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Area districts review crisis plans

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

and JUDY SHERARD

dobrien@dailynews.net

jsherard@dailynews.net

Area school districts reached out to their faculties and staffs during the weekend in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting, where 26 children and teachers were killed by a shooter who entered the school by force.

Gail Dunbar, Plainville USD 270 superintendent, said the district's principals met with staff Monday.

It gave them time to talk about what happened and review policies. They need "time to process what's happened," she said.

Bob Young, superintendent of Ellis USD 388, agreed.

"Our crisis plan is pretty much in place, but it never hurts to review it," Young said. "Are we doing what the plan says we're supposed to be doing? Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy like this to bring it to the forefront. You think you're in pretty good shape, and then you think maybe we had better look over things and review."

The Hays USD 489 Facebook page has a link for people to review tips from the National Association of School Psychologists for helping children cope with violence. The NASP website can be found at bit.ly/T5CGOR.

The Hays Board of Education meeting opened Monday night with a moment of silence in respect for victims, families and the community of Newtown, Conn.

The tragedy has affected everyone personally and professionally, board president Darren Schumacher said.  

"We must recommit to do everything within our power to make our children and staff safe," Schumacher said.

Superintendent Will Roth said he's heard from a few concerned parents.

"Children's safety is No. 1," Roth said. "Nothing else matters if we don't do everything we can to make children safe."

Staff members were prepared to have conversations if some children needed to talk.

It's an opportunity to talk with children about reporting what they hear, Roth said.

"We take what is reported seriously and check it out," Roth said.

Each school in the USD 489 district has its own crisis plan, and a crisis team reviews each plan once a year.

The district will review them again "to make sure we are doing everything we can," Roth said.

Linda Kenne, superintendent of Victoria USD 432, said, "We have our system in place, and we're very happy with it."

"It's teacher driven," she added, "(because) teachers are the leaders in the room."

Kenne said there are signs that tell visitors to report to the office -- like are in many schools -- and "we have a single point of entry at the grade school; if you want to come in the building, you have to come in the front doors."

In Ellis, Young said he has had a couple of questions from parents, "What are you doing with this or that?"

"They are very legitimate questions, so we have addressed those," he said. "So far, it's pretty much business as usual, but it's been on the minds of the parents, which is to be expected."

Thomas More Prep-Marian Junior-Senior High School, which operates out of two buildings, already had scheduled installation of cameras to every entrance to the buildings during the winter break.

Both buildings have electronic doors that can be locked with one keystroke, and classroom doors can be locked from the inside.

In an email to all parents, TMP Principal Bill DeWitt said, "We as  school leaders and teachers are working quickly to assure  you that the school  is a  safe place."

At Holy Family Elementary School, part of the Hays Catholic Schools system along with TMP, Principal Rachel Wentling sent out a similar email to parents saying, "Of course, such events cause us to review our current security and examine areas that are weak or in need of improvement. We are currently doing that and will determine any updates or changes necessary."

Like many area schools, especially at the elementary levels, all doors with the exception of the main entrance are locked during the school day.

"I am uncertain what our security will look like in the future, but please know that this is something we take very seriously," Wentling told parents. "While we take many precautions to make our school safe, it is impossible to secure it from all dangers or dangerous people of the world."

"Ultimately, we must continue to raise our children with a deep understanding of morality  and a true sense of compassion for one another," DeWitt said. "We must continue to shine bright lights of hope and kindness even when we feel overcome  by periods of darkness."

In addition to the NASP website listed by USD 489, DeWitt listed another helpful site, bit.ly/fGbobq, made available by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Stockton USD 271 Superintendent Allaire Homburg said his district also has a crisis plan in place.

"The worst thing is to not have a plan for something."

It could be beneficial for a group of area administrators and educators to discuss crisis management plans, he said.

Homburg has two sons who work in education, as well as grandchildren ages one to 17.

"Even though it's half a continent away, it still hits home," he said. "Most of us are parents, grandparents."