Schools look at security after Newtown tragedy

December 17, 2012 1:47:39 PM PST
Video surveillance, and lots of it, is at the heart of protecting schools in Passaic. But even here, the safety of students and staff has taken on new meaning after the tragedy in Newtown.

Cameras cover every angle at the high school and middle school buildings, with plans in the budget for more cameras at elementary schools, drawn up long before the Newtown tragedy.

Passaic has what's called "active shooter training" for police officers assigned to schools. During an active shooter exercise in 2009, Passaic officers learned to fan out in teams that are on the scene only a few minutes after the first reports of a gunman.

Students are also drilled on evacuation procedures. Passaic officials say they advocate extensive training and preparation for every school district. Schools across the U.S. beefed up patrols and security plans were reviewed as teachers and students returned to class on Monday after a gunman stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, killing 26 people and then himself. A handful of schools were locked down throughout the day as extra vigilant administrators and police responded to any report of suspicious activity.

At least three schools were on alert in Ohio after threatening comments were made on Facebook and Twitter. In Ridgefield, Conn., swarms of parents picked up their children and police were at each school after a report of a suspicious person at a nearby train station. In Philadelphia, officers rushed to a high school after security officers mistook a student's umbrella for a gun. And in Tampa, Fla., the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office questioned students after a bullet was found on a school bus.

Some parents kept their kids at home. Camille Lacroix-Moulton said her two children both woke up feeling a bit under the weather, so she decided it was best for them to stay home. Her daughter is in kindergarten; her son is in fifth grade.

"Mainly because of my little one. She just turned six, and I don't want her to hear about it," the Milford, N.H., mother said. "It wasn't really me thinking, 'Today's the day that something bad's gonna happen to her. It was more like, a lot of this stuff is going on today. I'm sure a lot of kids know about it, even at her age. So I was more than happy to wait a day and let it die down."

Chicago resident Melissa Tucker said she only sent her children to school after assurances from administrators that extra safety precautions were made.

"I was actually going to keep them home today," she said.

One school district in western Pennsylvania went so far as to get a court order over the weekend so it could arm officers in each of its schools Monday. The board had recently voted to let officers have guns but decided to expedite the process. The court order affected the Butler Area School District and the South Butler County School District, both about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh.

Schools held a moment of silence and flew flags at half-staff. Meanwhile, teachers and administrators tried to handle the psychological toll of the shooting, many of them opting for routine rather than a discussion about the shooting.

At the Global Concepts Charter School in Lackawanna, N.Y., near Buffalo, Principal David Ehrle fielded calls from parents who told him they had shielded their children from news coverage over the weekend. The parents wanted to know whether the kids would hear about it from their teachers. He told them they would not.

"Certainly, you can't stop kids from talking on the bus or at the lunch table, but as a school we're not, if you will, sponsoring educating about it," he said.

Ehrle said teachers at the kindergarten through eighth-grade school were told to assure kids who asked that the school was safe and send any apprehensive students to a counselor if necessary.

"Often, normalcy is the most comforting thing for the students," he said. "That was the message that we sent out over the weekend to the staff is, that we need to continue on doing what we've always done."

Eight-year-old Ally Tobey said she had a completely normal day of third-grade in Concord, N.H. Asked if any of her friends or teachers mentioned Connecticut, she said simply, "nope."

American history teacher Richard Cantlupe said he would remind his students his No. 1 job was to keep them out of harm's way and that, "Just like the teachers at Newtown, I would do whatever I had to do to keep them safe."

Rosell said she didn't tell her daughter any details about the shooting, but did try to prepare her in case there was ever a dangerous situation in the future. She advised her daughter to dive onto the floor if she ever saw someone with a gun or people screaming.

"You mean like hide under my desk?" she said her daughter asked.

No, Rosell told her, explaining she should pretend to be lifeless on the floor instead and not move until she comes to get her. Her daughter looked at her confused.

"You could tell she was lost," Rosell said.

Some information from The Associated Press

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