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NH school officials try to reassure students, parents in aftermath of Parkland tragedy

Sunday News Correspondent

February 17. 2018 10:57PM
A mourner on Feb. 16, 2018, places a candle on one of 17 crosses at a memorial for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (REUTERS/Jonathan Drake)

School administrators 1,500 miles away from the massacre that took place at a Florida school last week are scrambling to find ways to ease the anxiety felt by parents and students in the Granite State.

For Bedford Superintendent Chip McGee, he realized shortly after his 10-year-old daughter questioned him about the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that he could not remain silent.

"That is just not a question you want to answer, but once it is asked, it is out there," said McGee.

His daughter heard about the shooting, which killed 17 people on Wednesday, during a news update on the radio. Although she didn't immediately talk to her parents about what she heard, she did later that day, said McGee.

"They don't need to know every detail," said McGee, explaining it was important to listen to her, answer her questions and reassure her that she is safe.

Then, McGee said, his next priority was to move on to something much happier - cuddling with their dog.

McGee said he struggled with how to express his desire to reassure students and parents, broach the topic of ongoing safety measures at the Bedford schools and connect with parents.

"It is so emotional and it is so hard," he said.

He's well aware of parents' sometimes nagging uncertainty about sending precious children off to school and worrying that they might not return home.

"The thing that is hard for me is that I have those feelings as well," McGee said. The truth is these children are more likely to be involved in a car crash or some other accident as opposed to a school shooting, he said, but those types of scenarios do not grab the attention of the national media in the same way as the horror that took place last week in Florida.

McGee met with guidance counselors in the district to draft the email that was sent to parents Thursday, which addressed safety measures, provided guidelines on how to talk with children about the Florida tragedy, offered suggestions on what can be done to help and most important, offered some calmness during the chaos.

"Despite the distance, these events do hit home for all of us as we continue to make school safety a top priority," agreed Tim Powers, acting headmaster at Pinkerton Academy in Derry.

Powers also felt the need to reach out to parents and talk to them about school safety, which he said is vital in order for the school to do its job and for students to learn.

"When tragedies like this occur, we are reminded that no one is immune to it. It is a scary time to be in, and it is something on my mind daily," said Powers.

In an email to parents last week, Powers promised to work to improve and explore ways to keep the school safe.

"Our campus setting presents unique challenges that other high schools do not face, but they are ones that we have and will continue to address and work on," he wrote to parents. "A big part of Pinkerton Academy being a safe environment is continuing to promote the 'see something, say something' culture."

He stressed the importance of students being comfortable enough to come forward and talk about what they see with teachers, counselors, staff or administrators, and said parents should feel the same way.

And, in Nashua, Superintendent Jahmal Mosley reassured parents last week that the district is doing all it can to provide safe learning environments for its students and staff. He said the district continuously reviews, practices and improves school safety and security measures each year through a variety of emergency drills that include responding to an active threat.

"More importantly, we know the most important measure to keeping our schools safe is to maintain a positive school climate and to encourage open, positive lines of communication among students and staff," he said in a message to parents, echoing the importance of speaking up if something seems suspicious.

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