Student safety top priority for schools after Newtown tragedy

St. Croix Valley students returned to school Monday just days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school shooting that killed 26 people — 20 children and six adults.

“As you can imagine, it’s on everybody’s mind,” said Carissa Keister, Independent School District 834 spokeswoman. “It hit so close to home. There’s been a lot of parents calling with concerns and some staff members were very upset by it as well.”

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” wrote Saint Croix Preparatory Academy (SCPA) Executive Director Jon Gutierrez in a letter to parents on Friday.

“Even though this incident occurred in Connecticut, its impact is felt at St. Croix Prep and is sure to raise questions about our security measures,” Gutierrez writes. “The safety of our students is always top priority.”

Students at SCPA and ISD 834 schools were met by an increased staff presence Monday and both SCPA and ISD 834 officials said their schools regularly practice safety drills.

“In the last year-and-a-half, we have been working on increasing our safety procedures and protocols with a grant given to us. National experts have come to our schools and staff have been preparing and revising the plan and we’ll continue to actually implement it with training and safety drills.” Keister said. “This will allow us to give the best planning possible if a crisis would occur. It doesn’t mean it guarantees anything but being prepared is a top priority.”

“We have plans in place to handle emergency situations and regularly practice our procedures with students and staff through discussions and emergency exercises.” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez added that SCPA school doors are locked at 9:30 a.m., sign-in procedures are maintained, the school works closely with law enforcement officials to review security measures and lockdown procedures and no security risks are caused by the new construction project. He also said they are getting proposals for a camera security system with the construction project.

Keister added that in a couple of months when more information is released about how the Newtown tragedy unfolded, there will be a debriefing on the shooting so schools can see what can be learned from the incident going forward.

Both SCPA and ISD 834 also handled discussion of the tragedy in a similar manner.

“The school left the discussion to the parents so some students have had a lot of involvement while others have been sheltered from the incident,” Keister said.

She added that teachers were instructed to handle the issue on a student-by-student basis if it was brought up in class.

“It’s very individual, based on the situation, and it totally depends on the setting. If a student asks about it in a large group setting there will be a follow-up and the teacher will try and answer their questions and get students the help they may need.” Keister said.

“Our administration and faculty will use wisdom and professional judgment in acknowledging these questions, expression our sorrow over recent events, emphasizing the safety of our school, and encouraging students to continue conversations with their immediate family,” Gutierrez said.

Both schools have licensed counselors, administrators and school psychologists available to students.

As coverage of the tragedy continues, ISD 834 offered parents suggestions about how to handle questions raised by their students. They included limiting TV coverage of the event, reassure children they are safe in school, let them ask questions, talk about safety procedures and keep children on a regular schedule as much as possible.

For other tips and information about talking to children about the tragedy or other similar situations check out the following link from the National School Association of School Psychologists: