A nationwide tension lingers in the air after Friday’s school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and Sampson County is not an exception. As local children went back to school Monday after their weekend break, thoughts of Friday’s events were fresh, putting everyone a little on edge.
In an effort to try and prevent such tragedy from happening here at home, local schools are doing all they can to ensure safety and ease fears, educators said.
Dr. Ethan Lenker, superintendent of Sampson County Schools, says that school safety has always been a top priority ever since the Columbine shooting in 1999. “We are continually revisiting our crisis plans,” notes Lenker. “Prior to Friday’s events, we were already in the process of rewriting and reorganizing our crisis plans.”
Likewise, Clinton City Schools superintendent Stuart Blount ensures that several strategies for school emergencies are currently in place and that they are always periodically reviewed. Since Friday’s tragic events, Blount says that these standard safety strategies have been reemphasized. “We’ve reminded everyone that we do not ever need to be complacent.”
Locking classroom doors, having surveillance cameras at schools, having resource officers available, and keeping entrance doors locked once school begins are a few of the specific safety measures that already exist.
“You can’t just walk in the back door of school,” says Lenker. “You have to go through an office area before you can gain access to the rest of the school.”
Emergency training also plays an important role in keeping schools safe and those in charge prepared.
“We’ve recently had the EMT training at Midway,” says Lenker. “That really showed us areas where we are strong and areas that can be strengthened.”
Teachers and staff are equally ready to handle the unthinkable. “All of the teachers have been trained. They go through training yearly,” says Lenker. “They all watch a video about school emergencies and we have lock down drills twice a year, one each semester. The kids also get some training in with that but it’s mainly to prepare teachers to know how to respond.”
Even small actions can potentially make a big difference in detecting trouble early and protecting students. “We always want to be prepared for unfortunate events. We’re refocusing on the small, simple things we can do to keep our kids safe,” explains Blount. “Simple things like making sure we stay in the hallways with the students and keeping an eye on what is going on outside our school, looking out the windows periodically.”
Parental concern about school safety is certainly understandable, but Lenker is quick to reassure students’ family and friends that “my kids go to these schools and I feel they are safe.”
After such a horrible event, it is the local students who are the first priority.
“We’re just trying to keep the days as normal as possible,” says Blount. “I’m sure it is naturally on everyone’s mind as it has been on mine, but for the kids, it is important to keep the normalcy in their day and make sure they feel safe.”