Town leaders react, reassure after Newtown tragedy

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Fri., Dec. 21, 2012
A somber Police Chief Matthew Reed explained the security measures in place in South Windsor public schools at the Monday, Dec. 17, Town Council meeting. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.
A somber Police Chief Matthew Reed explained the security measures in place in South Windsor public schools at the Monday, Dec. 17, Town Council meeting. Photo by Christian Mysliwiec.

In South Windsor, the response of community leaders to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was immediate. That afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kate Carter assembled school principals to determine how they would respond to students when they returned to school the following Monday. What they developed was a strategy crafted specifically for each age group.

In an e-mail to parents sent Saturday, Dec. 15, Carter explained that they understood that parents may have shielded kindergarten to fifth-grade students from the news of the shooting. Sensitive to this, she asked parents to speak with their older children and ask them to refrain from commenting on the tragedy in front of younger students, and to instead wait until they could speak with an adult at school. A lot of thought was put into how teachers would handle the topic with elementary school students.

“All elementary schools are holding before-school faculty meetings to review age-appropriate strategies for responding to student comments or questions,” wrote Carter. “In general, teachers will make every effort to return to routines and normalcy wherever possible.”

At the middle school level, they understood that the level of awareness would be higher, and so Nancy Larson, principal at Timothy Edwards Middle School, acknowledged the tragedy in an age-appropriate manner in her morning announcements. “She and her team will be meeting with students by team to reassure them of the existing procedures in place to keep students and staff safe,” wrote Carter.

“We are well aware that many of our high school students may have viewed media coverage even more extensively than their parents,” continued Carter. Counselors, social workers and psychologists were available to support students. Principal Dan Sullivan was available for conversation with students, who Carter anticipated having many questions, concerns and a desire to help the Newtown community.

Carter noted that any lockdown drills that may be done in the future will be performed with special care, as to not upset students. Such drills are required by state law and have been done regularly for years. Carter also informed parents that the lines of communication between her and Chief of Police Matthew Reed were open, and that the school resource officers at Timothy Edwards and SWHS will be present, as usual, along with a police presence at elementary schools.

Reed was present at the Town Council's meeting on Monday, Dec. 17, and spoke about the security posture of schools in South Windsor. “In 1999, Chief Tyler came before the council to ask for funding to put a school resource officer in the high school,” he said. “He was told, 'Why in the world would we need police officers in our schools here in South Windsor?' The proposition was summarily dismissed - until the next day, when Columbine happened, on the 20th of April, 1999.” They then placed an officer at the high school, and later, at the middle school, he said.

In 2006, the police department launched the Safe Schools Initiative. This built on the partnership between the school district and the police. Today, visitors to the elementary schools and middle school have a single point of entry, and are allowed in through an electronic video access system. All schools also have video surveillance equipment. In addition, patrol officers are encouraged to stop into schools as part of their shift.

“Sadly, it's tragedies like Newtown that emphasize why we have these systems in place,” said Reed, who said he has faith in the system in place at South Windsor. “My opinion is that the security posture in South Windsor is very good,” he said. “We'll continue to work with Dr. Carter and the school district, and continue to make improvements as we see necessary.”

Mayor Thomas Delnicki said he hoped to have a town meeting in the near future to discuss school safety. The meeting would also be an opportunity for residents and leaders to engage in a question and answer session.

Carter concluded her message to parents saying that the teachers and staff of the school system are highly dedicated professionals. “These special people stand ready to embrace your children tomorrow and will work hard to ensure that our schools continue to be places of love, laughter and learning,” she wrote.

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