Schools around the country are reviewing security plans, and in some cases adding extra law enforcement patrols, to prepare for the first day of classes Monday since the shooting massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut.
Some officials refused to discuss plans publicly in detail, but it was clear that vigilance will be high this week at schools everywhere in the aftermath of one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history: Twenty-six people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, most children ages 6 and 7. The gunman then shot and killed himself.
Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said his agency was sending a letter to school superintendents across the state Sunday evening, providing a list of written prompts for classroom teachers to help them address the shooting in Newtown with their students.
"In many instances, teachers will want to discuss the events because they are so recent and so significant, but they won't necessarily know how to go about it," he said.
Metro Detroit school districts say they're safe
Several schools have sent letters home to parents about their safety procedures and the counseling services they'll have for the community this week.
Bloomfield Hills Schools Superintendent Rob Glass told Local 4 Monday morning his district would be all about visibility and assessing the emotional state of students.
"We will be having all of our staff, our counselors,our principals, our teachers, as visible as possible to greet students and reassure them and look for any signs throughout the day of any distress or to offer any support that might be needed," he said. "Going forward, we'll just have to assess what is appropriate."
Birmingham School Superintendent David Nerad said there would be more police, teachers and school staff in visible locations Monday morning.
Utica School superintendent Dr. Christine Johns reviewed existing security procedures in a letter to parents in her district:
- All outside visitors are required to check in at the office.
- All classrooms are equipped with telephones.
- With the exception of front entrances, all exterior doors and windows at the schools are kept locked during the day. As part of this routine, entrances and windows are checked throughout the day and evening.
- The UCS security team works with the staff at every school to conduct two security drills each school year. All buildings have completed one drill this fall. Reviews of these drills are used to revised and refine our security practices.
- UCS maintains a strong working relationship with all local law enforcement. We communicate with police officials regularly and coordinate our efforts with them to keep our students and community safe.
Mary K. Gallagher reminded staff and parents in Northville Schools that they have an important role in school safety. “Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.” She said, “Parents, students, and staff can assist by following these safety tips (provided by our local police departments) on an ongoing basis:
- Be aware of your surroundings as you pick up and drop off your children – If you observe suspicious persons or circumstances, immediately report them to the police by dialing 911.
- Encourage your children to be aware of their surroundings and to contact a school official immediately if they see something or someone suspicious in their school.
- If you are aware of anyone that poses a threat to the school environment, speak up immediately by contacting school officials or the police department. This may include other community members, students or staff.
Districts across the U.S.
Northern Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest school system in the Washington area with about 181,000 students, will provide additional police patrols and counselors.
"This is not in response to any specific threat but rather a police initiative to enhance safety and security around the schools and to help alleviate the understandably high levels of anxiety," Superintendent Jack Dale said Sunday.
Dennis Carlson, superintendent of Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, said a mental health consultant will meet with school officials Monday, and there will be three associates -- one to work with the elementary, middle and high schools, respectively. As the day goes on, officials will be on the lookout for any issues that arise, and extra help will go where needed.
"We are concerned for everybody -- our staff and student body and parents," Carlson said. "It's going to be a day where we are all going to be hypervigilant, I know that."
In Tucson, Ariz., where a gunman in January 2011 killed six and wounded 12 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the largest school district in the state increased security after Friday's shooting. Planning was under way at the Tucson Unified School District to help teachers and students with grief and fear, and the district was working with Tucson police on security, district spokeswoman Cara Rene said.
In the Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school district, officials said they would reiterate their existing safety and emergency-management plans to keep more than 400,000 students safe, and deploy police or counselors to schools as needed.
"With this incident, we took it as an opportunity to remind all of our principals to review and refresh their individual emergency-management plans and remind staff of standard safety protocol," said Chief Safety and Security Officer Jadine Chou.
Many schools will be holding a moment of silence Monday and will fly flags at half-staff.