The Fox Point-Bayside School District advised teachers Monday not to make the Newtown, CT school shooting the subject of full classroom discussions, as part of the district’s desire to honor the fact that parents may choose to tell their children different things about the tragedy.
In addition, the district is reviewing security measures, such as, most critically, whether to install a buzz-in system at the middle and elementary schools, said Superintendent Rachel Boechler.
Local police agencies are also taking some action in the wake of the tragedy, which left 20 children dead. Fox Point and Bayside police officials said they are increasing their visibility and patrols around area schools, although both also stressed that it’s just a precautionary measure not driven by anything specific to their communities. Fox Point Police Chief Tom Czaja and Bayside Police Capt. Scott McConnell both also said that their departments regularly undergo active shooter training.
Parents have made suggestions
Boechler said she has received a handful of emails and calls from parents who have offered ideas for improving school security since Friday, including the buzz in issue. Right now, all school doors are locked except the front doors at the middle and elementary schools. Unlike some schools, those in the Fox Point-Bayside District do not require a person to be buzzed in to get through the front door. Instead, they can walk in and approach a secretary to check in. The school in Connecticut did have a buzz-in system; however authorities there said the shooter forced his way in anyway.
Boechler said the district appreciates the “increased visibility” from local police in the wake of the tragedy and is reviewing all of its safety plans. The district has a security meeting scheduled Tuesday that will include local police, she said. Its crisis management team met Monday morning.
The district’s security plan was just updated last January, she said, “but we are checking to make sure it’s completely secure and looking to see if we want to enhance it.”
Implementing a buzz-in system is under consideration but would be “a high cost item,” she said.
“We feel that our schools are very safe and secure,” Boechler said. “However, we will continue to review our processes to make absolutely sure.”
The district also sent a letter to parents and families about the tragedy.
It says in part: “We join with you and others across the country in grieving the loss of lives and of innocence as a result of the tragedy that occurred last week in Newtown Connecticut. Please keep the Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Newtown community in your hearts and prayers as they walk through this heartbreaking time. We recognize that this event will bring forth many emotions in our own community, especially for our students, parents and school staff who have come to trust in the safety and security our schools offer.”
The district told parents that its intention was “to provide a great deal of normalcy and regular routine for your children in the coming days.”
The district is also writing a letter of support to the Newtown School District.
How to talk to your children
The district letter included a summary of American Psychiatric Association recommendations for helping children process the tragedy, including:
- Create an open and supportive environment where children know they can ask questions.
- Give honest answers and information. Use words and concepts they can understand.
- Help children find ways to express themselves and to know that people are there to help. Remember also that children learn by watching parents and teachers react and listening to their conversations.
- Don’t let children watch too much television with frightening repetitious images.
- Monitor for physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or other pains.
Tips from the National Association of School Psychologists include: Be reassuring; be a good listener; monitor the news; emphasize people’s resiliency; highlight people’s compassion and humanity; maintain as much continuity and normalcy as possible; spend family time; do something positive with your children to help someone in need; ask for help if you or your children need it, communicate with your school; understand the grief process; be aware of your own needs.
'Atmosphere of normalcy'
As for the students, Boechler said the district’s goal is to “create an atmosphere of normalcy for our students this week. We will respond to any questions or concerns but don’t want to give it undue attention.”
Monday morning, the district officials met with staff before school began to explain how they should respond. “We let them know they should respond in an age-appropriate manner and with a lot of compassion, but don’t make it a full class discussion,” Boechler said. "We do not know which kids know what depending on what their parents chose.”
Teachers were advised to follow students’ leads. “They may ask to do something for the kids in Connecticut to support them,” she said, by way of example. The district would support such a student initiative, she said.
Boechler said the middle school had a moment of silence for the Connecticut victims with morning announcements on Monday morning, and the middle school flag is flying at half mast.
The flag at the Fox Point Police Department is also at half mast.
McConnell, of Bayside police, said the department was also in contact with local parochial schools. He said the active shooter training dates at least to the Columbine shootings at a Colorado high school in 1999. He stressed that he believes local schools are safe and that any measures being taken are purely precautionary.
“We’ve increased patrols around the schools,” he added.
Chief Czaja of Fox Point concurred. “We’ve been in contact with school administrators to reassure them that we are taking action and will make our presence known around the schools,” he said.
In the elementary school, teachers were advised to anticipate that many kindergarten and first grade students might know little about the tragedy, if anything. If questions arose, the teachers were told to “respond honestly with few details and reassure the kids that they are safe and that there are lots of people here to care for them," Boechler said.
She said there will also be a moment of silence at Wednesday’s holiday concert.
As for the letter to parents, it’s part of the district’s efforts to respect parental decisions on the topic. “We wanted to get a lot of information to parents about how to coach and counsel students,” she said. “We are always sensitive to the fact that parents make different choices about how little to tell their children, and we need to honor that. We’ve also coached kids in both buildings that, if they have concerns, they should go to a trusted adult.”
There are 950 students in the district, she said. She said most parental response has been positive and that parents said they appreciate district outreach on the topic.