Flags fly at half staff at Lacey schools where police have had a greater presence since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults.
“We know that the presence of a police officer makes people feel safer,” Superintendent Dr. Sandra Brower said. “This is especially true for children. The presence of law enforcement is also a known deterrent.”
Officers from the Lacey Township Police Department regularly patrol the schools, Brower said.
“We understand the concerns parents and students have in the wake of the tragic events in Connecticut so we have implemented a plan to provide a greater presence at the schools,” Cpt. David Paprota said. “This effort is being made in coordination with the superintendent’s office and the district crisis team.”
The students returned to school Monday for the first time since the mass shooting, which was one of the worst in U.S. history. District administration met Sunday for five hours to organize resources and materials and discuss response.
“We came out of that with developmental resources,” Brower said.
Staff arrived to school 15 minutes early to prepare how they would address the shooting. Addressing the event varied based on age group, Brower said.
“Elementary schools are sharing information about school safety rather than the event itself,” Superintendent Dr. Sandra Brower said. “If questions are asked by children, teachers will be responding with affirmation, correction as needed and support.”
Kindergarten through fourth grade was made the highest priority to be sure staff are sensitive and respectful of parents decision in addressing the shooting, she said. Maintaining normalcy is the mission at the elementary school level.
“We’re shielding them at this point,” she said. Teachers discussed with their classes the ways staff keep the school safe, problem solving and the importance of listening to adults.
With four days of school before winter break, elementary students arrived wearing reindeer antlers and Santa hats.
“It’s the holiday season,” she said. “We don’t want to take that away from them.”
At Mill Pond and Lacey Middle School, teachers briefly discussed the event followed by discussions to allay fears and reassure the students that the schools are safe, Brower said.
The district utilized a technique to instruct students to follow worried thoughts with brave thoughts, a method Brower uses herself, she said in a statement to the community at Monday’s school board meeting.
“Worried thought: how do we go on? How do we move through the pain of the images and the stories we are hearing?” she said. “Brave thought: schools are the heart of the community, our kids expect us to model courage. They expect us to be strong and they expect us to protect them and we promise we will.”
Two assemblies were held at Lacey Township High School—one for grades nine and 10 and a second for grades 11 and 12. Topics included school safety, drill importance, situational awareness and reporting suspicious behavior, Brower said.
“We’re part of a K-12 initiative to make our response as age appropriate as possible,” Assistant Principal Jeffrey Brewer said. “We discussed the facts of tragedy so the students were informed correctly so there wasn’t speculation throughout the day.”
Then, administration discussed the school’s procedures, he said. The assemblies were a “teachable moment,” he said.
“Responsibility lies with all of us,” he said. “It’s always a community effort here. It’s one of the great things about our town.”
Brewer had conversations throughout the day with students, he said. Counselors, the psychologist, social workers and administration were available as well, which is a “daily procedure.”
“Our students were fantastic today,” he said. “While we were speaking, they understood the magnitude, the gravity of it. They took it in a very mature way.”
Students' reactions were “appropriate” and their concerns and questions were “legitimate,” he said.
“I was very impressed with our student response. It shows what great kids we have here,” he said. “That’s why it’s such a hard tragedy. We value our kids.”
Guidance in handling such a sensitive event is available to parents via the district website. Hardcopy resources are also in the schools.
Protocols and Procedures
The district is committed to ensuring the safety of its students and staff by implementing, reviewing and updating the Safe Schools and Crisis Management Plans, Brower said in a letter to the community following the shooting.
General safety procedures for visitors of Lacey schools state that the visitor must have a purpose and must be a registered guest, Brower said.
The elementary schools are locked. Doors are only unlocked when a visitor arrives. In each school, guests must sign in.
As for procedures during an actual event, a lockdown may be in order, she said.
“A lockdown confines movement and activity in a school when there is a known threat,” she said. “A series of safety checks are initiated including securing all access points and reducing visibility.”
Just last week, the District Crisis Response Team, which is made up of school and district leaders, a teacher, the district nurse coordinator, police and a parent, met to set goals including the development of classroom crisis response protocols and revisions to the current plan.
“We can always improve and those improvements come from scenario and schema development,” she said.
The purpose of the District Crisis Response Team is to provide a common frame of reference to increase stability to respond to an emergency or crisis; to develop a team approach using members’ expertise, knowledge and resources; and to revise the Safe Schools reference manual and quick reference material for staff, Brower said.
“We will continue to review our plans, procedures and our protocols. We will continue to identify and reveal our vulnerabilities,” she said at the school board meeting. “It is our mission every day to send your children back the same way you send them to us in the morning.”
Eric Schubiger, Vice President of the Board of Education, said the district does a “pretty good job” at protecting Lacey’s students and schools and has made great strides over the years.
“This is a board that’s proactive. At the same time, there’s a negative stigma to being reactive and I think sometimes being reactive is ok,” he said. “If there’s ever a time to be reactive, I’m saying the time is right now so lets do whatever we have to do as a board, as a community to get together to do whatever we can to make it better for everybody.”
In the short-term, the district will be focusing on the “emotional security” of the students, board President Jack Martenak said. The mid-term goal is to review security drills and protocols. But in the long-term, the district will be working on lessons learned from the Sandy Hook tragedy.
“I’m pretty confident you’ll hear more on that as we move forward, he said. “I just want to ensure the public that this issue has our attention and it’s not just for this week, it will be for the upcoming future here.”