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December 18, 2012

Area schools prepared to cope with shooting

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — Following the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., area schools officials said Monday they were ready to meet the needs of their communities.

While there have been some questions from parents, students seemed little or not affected by the events, they said.

At Riverside Elementary School, Principal Melinda Murdock said school opened a little early Monday to allow her staff members time to talk about how to deal with the situation.

This included stressing the importance of acknowledging feelings and reassuring students the school is doing “everything we can to keep them safe.”

Besides some brief conversations in some classrooms, “students were not focused on it,” she said. No students came to her office.

In a brief discussion with students Friday, they were informed there was an incident but they were safe. That was followed with a letter home that informed parents about the talk and asked them to reinforce the message. It reminded them to be cautious of the impact of media coverage.

School counselor Sallye Sadlocha said the topic came up with a few students in a lunch time group who asked about how they would be safe. She discussed with them the safety plans that are in place, including a lockdown. In discussing the situation with staff and parents who inquired, she said it was important to keep children’s routines going and limit the amount of news coverage they hear. Young children may not understand that it happened only once and now is over. She provided several websites that would be useful for parents.

Several Riverside parents and grandparents discussed the situation Monday before picking up their students.

Tom Jackson was picking up his granddaughter, who is in kindergarten.

“I wanted to get over here early,” in light of Friday’s incident, he said.

Lisa Nowak was picking up her two boys, one in second grade and one in kindergarten. Having seen the recent lockdown drill, she thinks the principal does a good job in maintaining safety, she said.

Don Beers has a son in second grade.

“It makes you look at things differently,” he said. His son normally walks from the parking lot in the morning by himself. “This morning it made me feel a little safer to walk him in.” He will probably do that the rest of the week.

School PTO secretary Sallie Han said by email that her kindergartner did not seem to understand what happened in Connecticut, but her third-grader remembered a recent lockdown at the school.

“I think we grown-ups are living harder with this than the kids are,” she said, “and that is as it should be.”

Oneonta City School District Interim Superintendent David Rowley said he spoke to some elementary school parents Monday and assured them that safety procedures are in place to deal with similar situations. On Monday there were counselors available to talk with students — a typical response to an emergency — but there were few student issues, he said. Principals are reviewing their safety plans, and he is talking with appropriate school safety officials to see what else can be done. As more information becomes available adjustments could be made, he said.

At Morris Central School, Superintendent Matthew Sheldon said the necessary resources are available if needed, including a social worker and psychologist. In a Monday morning email to staff, he said: “Even though it may be difficult, it is important that we, as adults, provide a sense of normalcy and safety for our students.” The message also provided several websites for information about helping children handle such issues.

On Monday afternoon he said with the exception of some questions from one first-grade class: “students weren’t talking that much about it.” The school is reviewing safety measures to assure that “we have done everything to take care of students’ safety.”

The next meeting of the school’s safety team is in January, and the shootings will be a key part of it. Before that it will also be addressed at weekly staff meetings.

“It’s a little quieter than we anticipated” from parents and students, Unadilla Valley Central School Superintendent Robert Mackey said.

School middle/high school counselor Stephanie Cooke said while the staff has had a presence in the halls, the students are not talking much about it. She’s advising staff to be alert to any problem that might develop. That includes listening to what students are saying, and watching for changes in behavior and signs of stress.

With the funeral services for the Connecticut beginning, Mackey said the staff will remain alert. He suggests that parents begin the conversation about the incident at home, and the school can provide support.

As the discussion about the issues continues, it could be an “emotional roller-coaster” for students and staff. “We have to be prepared,” he said.

Sidney Central School Superintendent Bill Christensen said while counselors have a lot of resources to help students and staff, they have so far not had much use.

There have been a number of parents calling, he said. A lot of those questions have been focused around details of the school emergency plan, such as where to pick up a student in such a case. While the staff has been drilled about it, some of that can’t be shared with the public.

“We don’t want to be totally predictable,” he said.

A letter was sent home to parents explaining some of the security in place, including security cameras, fencing and phone system.

“I want to assure you we take safety very seriously and we are always looking to improve,” he said in the letter.

“It has been quiet,” school psychologist Tina McNamara said about the use of such services Monday. She is not sure what is a normal response in a situation like this. However, teachers know that resources are available if needed.

Some Internet sites provided by area officials are: