Local schools emphasize safety, routines, support for students

By Andrew J. Concatelli - ReminderNews Assistant Editor
Suffield, East Granby - posted Wed., Dec. 19, 2012

Following the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 that left 20 young students and six adult staff members dead, local school officials are reaching out to parents with reassurances of safety and links to resources to help their children cope.

On Monday, Dec. 17, Suffield Superintendent of Schools Karen Baldwin issued a letter to the school community regarding the shootings. “The purpose of this letter is to provide you with an update about your child’s day today, to share with you helpful resources to guide your conversations with your children, [and] to respond to several inquiries raised about the district’s security procedures,” Baldwin’s letter read, in part.

Baldwin said that the district leadership team and crisis team met that day at 6:30 a.m. to review expectations for the school day and to review security protocols. Suffield Chief of Police Mike Manzi attended that meeting.

“The focus of our message was to encourage teachers to review this week’s schedule with students and orient them to the week ahead and establish a predictable routine,” Baldwin wrote. “Any classroom conversation that took place was limited to acknowledging what occurred, reassuring students that we are doing all we can to ensure safety, and are reviewing safety issues with the Suffield Police Department. As a district, our message to staff is that parents are the first source of information for children. School-based staff monitored students’ level of anxiety, and children who were experiencing difficulty were sent to guidance counselors or the main office to speak with administrators.”

The letter also included resources for parents to use to help frame discussions with their children. They included “Talking to Children about Violence” – http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/talkingviolence.pdf – and “Strong Emotional Reactions to Traumatic Events: Tips for Parents and Teachers” – http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/angermgmt_general.aspx.

Baldwin said safety protocols are being reviewed. “In light of the events in Newtown, a thorough examination and audit of district safety and security procedures is underway,” she wrote. “This work is a collaborative effort between my office and the Suffield Police Department.”

Cheri Burke, the principal of R. Dudley Seymour School, one of the East Granby’s elementary schools, sent a letter to parents on Dec. 16. “Maintaining normalcy and an environment of happiness and learning will be our top priority this week,” Burke wrote. “At this time, the Seymour School staff will not initiate any conversations with children about the horrific events of Newtown. We respect your decision as family for how to talk with your child and how much you wish to share. We will, however, monitor all children closely and look out for those who may have a particularly difficult time. If children ask direct questions or exhibit signs of concern, we will speak to them individually and handle each case as we see best to care for the child in need. Our school counselor, Tara Nichols, and I are trained to deal with children who have experienced grief, sadness and trauma, and I trust that we will help children work through these normal feelings. We will contact you immediately if we feel your child is struggling with this tragedy or exhibiting signs of distress at school.”

“I want to reassure you that Seymour School and East Granby public schools have been and will continue to be places of happiness, hope, and promise, and I want you to know that we will do everything in our power to continue to foster that spirit in the days ahead,” Burke wrote.

Burke attached some links to additional resources parents could use to help them talk to their children about the recent events. The East Granby public schools’ website, http://www.edline.net/pages/East_Granby_Public_Schools, also includes a detailed list and links to resources to help families cope with trauma, and discuss violence and death.

East Granby public schools and Superintendent Dr. Christine Mahoney held a community safety meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at the East Granby High School auditorium, to address concerns and updates about the district’s safety policies.

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