Area schools prepare for CT shooting fallout

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By Brian Sweeney
Area school officials are reaching out to students, staff and community members in the aftermath of last week’s tragic shooting in Newtown, CT.

Roxbury Central School Superintendent Tom O’Brien said his facility has a locking system in place and had already taken steps to expand security measures prior to Friday’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 students and six staff dead.

Superintendent O’Brien said the district recently conducted a full lockdown drill that included area police agencies and fire department personnel.
“We’ve been doing them for years,” he explained.

Advance planning
He noted that about two months ago Delaware County Sheriff Tom Mills and several deputies arrived at RCS on a Saturday, completing a full walk-through and reviewing security measures.
“Police agencies all have a copy of our security plan,” he explained. “Our local law enforcement agencies are really sensitive to this issue.”

The Roxbury superintendent declined to give specifics of the school’s protection measures, pointing out that media reports regarding these measures are counterproductive to safety procedures.
Superintendent O’Brien said a letter to parents was sent out this week containing a New York Times editorial reacting to the tragedy. School officials have also been talking to parents about the situation.

The superintendent said the school will fly its flag at half-mast in remembrance of the shooting victims and was planning to observe a moment of silence prior to Monday’s holiday concert.
“My heart goes out to the people of Newtown,” commented Superintendent O’Brien, “To even think about this is hard to fathom.”

MCS preparations
Margaretville Central School Superintendent Tony Albanese said that he and other staff worked over the weekend to determine the appropriate steps to follow after Friday’s tragedy.

“This is a very difficult time for all involved. We are working things out from a sensitivity and safety point and the faculty, staff and bus drivers have been just great,” the MCS superintendent explained. We do have a plan that was implemented Monday. We will watch for additional signs from our students and make adjustments accordingly.”

A letter sent out this week to parents and guardians (also posted on the school’s website) outlines several measures taken by the district to provide support for students:
• All bus drivers met as a group with the superintendent to review the district’s response to student questions.
• All faculty and staff were asked to report to school early on Monday morning to be briefed on the school’s approach to support students and adults.
• School counselors and psychologists will continue to be available to meet and speak with students if that need is present.
• Teachers, staff and bus drivers will be provided information on the signs to be aware of concerning students who may be in distress.
• Sensitivity, good listening skills and communicating information is most important.
• The school’s safety plan will continue to be implemented to the best of the district’s ability.

Ready to assist
At Andes, Superintendent Robert Chakar said the school’s guidance counselor has been readily available for children to speak with as well as our teachers being available to help children cope with their reactions to last week’s incident.

The ACS superintendent said that, on Monday, a NYS Trooper was at school for the early morning “showing a sign of support and insuring all of us that NYS Troopers are available to help the school cope with Newtown's tragedy.”

Superintendent Chakar said that the district sent information to faculty and staff on Tips for Teachers to follow from the National Association of School Psychologists.

The following information was also reinforced through ACS staff and advised adult staff to follow these guidelines:
• Model calm and control.
• Reassure children that they are safe
• Remind them that trustworthy people are in charge.
• Let children know that it is okay to feel upset.
• Observe children’s emotional state.
• Look for children at greater risk.
• Tell children the truth.
• Stick to the facts.
• Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
• Monitor your own stress level.