Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

December 21, 2012

Local reaction to public school shooting in Conn.

By Michael Schaffer and Krystal Fowler, Daily Iowegian
Daily Iowegian

CENTERVILLE — The mass killing Friday, Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 children and six adults, has the entire country asking questions.

Locally, people are asking how secure are our children here in Appanoose County?

Moravia School District Superintendent Brad Breon said they have an emergency response plan to deal with not only intruders, but also with fires, tornadoes, winter storms and bomb threats.

Breon said the school board has spent a lot of time looking at the plan and next year they will have more conversations on how the plan can be improved. Some areas they will look at are what teachers see and the vulnerable areas that can be improved on.

Breon said they plan to hold practice drills to deal with an intruder, though it may not a shooter, and a potential lockdown drill of the school building for other reasons.

"We're going to have those practice drills just like we do for a fire and tornado drill," Breon said.

Besides the use of practice drills, Breon said, the school board is expected in February to start conversing on how to beef up security, which could include security locks at entrances and cameras. Breon said not all school board members would be available to address the issue in January.

Seymour Superintendent David Lockridge said his administrative team and staff have been reviewing their safety procedures.

"We discussed the situation with our board at our last meeting," said Lockridge. "We're always trying to get feedback, whether it's from the state or local law enforcement."

He said local superintendents and the Area Education Agency are a big source of support when something like a school shooting happens.

"All the other superintendents I know in the area are very concerned about this," said Lockridge. "We e-mail each other."

Lockridge said the school always maintains a relationship with local law enforcement, and gets new information from them to be able to learn how to better address emergency situations if they occur.

"Each time [there is a shooting] people sit down and analyze their policies," said Lockridge. "You learn new things each time...It's like everything else in the world. Things evolve and change and I think you've got to be very vigilant to keep going in the right direction."

Lockridge also said the most important thing schools can do is provide a safe environment for students, but in the wake of a tragedy like Sandy Hook, a school district can't go overboard.

"You can't put the bars on the windows," said Lockridge. "That doesn't send a great psychological message to kids about why they're here."

School is still the safest place for a child to be, Lockridge said, and should be seen that way by students and parents.

Tony Ryan, superintendent of the Centerville and Moulton-Udell districts, said that when something like the Newtown, Conn. shooting happens, it will always make school districts re-evaluate their own safety procedures.

"What we have done is communicated with all staff with the idea that now would definitely be the appropriate time to review our current procedures and policies," said Ryan. "As we emotionally struggle with trying to find answers of why such an event would take place, at the same time we pull out our manuals, we refresh and keep in mind what we have to do in a crisis event. Just as importantly right now, we have to be on top of our skill...when it comes to meeting the emotional needs of the kids and answering any questions they have."

According to Ryan, both Moulton-Udell and Centerville have there own safety procedures in place that they are reviewing, but the process is much the same for both districts. Both districts are also trying to treat the school days as normally as possible.

"The best scenario for the kids is for us to be as routine and back to normal as soon as possible for the kids' sake and going about our day to day business, but making sure that we have those [support] resources available for the kids when the needs arise," said Ryan.

Ryan said paying attention to your surroundings and having pro-active communication with the school district is the best way parents and community members can help the district address situations before they might get out of hand.

"If parents or community members...see something out of the ordinary, don't take that assumption that it's normal and that somebody's addressing it," said Ryan. "If there's an out of the ordinary situation going on, pick up the phone and give an administrator a call. That allows us to pro-actively address and question any situation or any out of the ordinary occurrence that may be developing and pro-actively get involved. "

The Centerville School district is currently served by a Centerville Police officer and Ryan said there is communication on a daily basis with him. He also recently visited with the Sheriff's department, before the Sandy Hook shooting, about new safety suggestions the school's can implement. The schools are also in communication with local fire departments about safety issues and Ryan said he has been planning to meet with EMS members to open communication with them as well.

For right now, teachers and administrators are trying to provide as much of a comforting environment that they can fos students and parents.

"The administrative team members have committed to being extremely visible this past week and being out and about in the buildings and greeting buses and kids as they arrive at school," said Ryan. "They are working very hard to create an environment that is comforting for kids and parents."

Dealing with the mass loss of life has some grasping for reasons to explain it all.

The Rev. Sara Galindo at Drake Avenue Christian Church in Centerville answered aspects of the questions.

Galindo called the shooting a tragedy but with two major concerns: The first is society acts like it's very usual.

"And that's what we need to remember, that is the incidents have not increased dramatically," Galindo said. "I think, seriously, what it is we hear more of these things that are going on more quickly. So, I don't want to terrorize our children and others that they should be afraid to go to church or to school or activities because of this sort of thing. We know it can happen, but it's rare."

Galindo's second concern deals with the mainstream media's peculiar focus on the children who were killed but not the adults.

"And there were 26 deaths," she said. "So we need to be a prayer and compassion for the families of those adults who gave their lives trying to protect the children, and for that family of that fellow who was responsible for this."

Galindo said we need to be compassionate towards one another as a way to deal with the why and how of this tragedy, no matter one's position on gun control, school security and prayer in school.

"This should not be an opportunity to break out the vitriol and the anger but an opportunity to speak with compassion," Galindo said. "So, we've got to remember that just because we're hearing more of these incidents, does not mean that the world is more dangerous. I'm not sure that it's not."

Galindo said school shootings have been going on for some time. Until the formation of modern media, those shootings were mostly local news and not instant national and world-wide news.

"You heard local news," Galindo said. "And for something to hit the national news was pretty rare, like a Kent State."

Galindo solidified her contention by stating while in grade school a gunman enter her school in California.

"I don't remember enough about it to tell you whether anyone was killed or not, but there was a gunman in the school. I remember being locked into a room," Galindo said. "So it's not unheard of."

Galindo said she hates to see people react out of fear all of the time.