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School officials prepare to speak with students Monday

New Hampshire Sunday News

December 15. 2012 11:57PM

School officials across New Hampshire are preparing this weekend to talk with their staffs and students Monday about the massacre that left 26 dead at a Connecticut elementary school Friday.

Gov. John Lynch and other state leaders were on a conference call Saturday with about 40 school superintendents.

"It was a very productive call," said Gregg Champlin, school emergency planning specialist for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"The primary goal of the call was to address any concerns, any questions, that our superintendents and school districts might have," he said. "We just wanted to let them know that state resources were available to support them."

Top officials from the state education, health and emergency management departments as well as state police were on the call, Champlin said. He said a lot of the questions were about school security.

There's planning going on at the local level, as well.

At Bedford's Peter Woodbury School, where the Connecticut tragedy was not discussed with students on Friday, a staff meeting will be held Monday morning to determine the best way to now address the issue with children.

"We acknowledge that parents know their children best and know how to relay this type of information in a comforting manner that assures them that they are safe," Principal Kenneth Williams of Peter Woodbury Elementary School wrote in an email sent to parents Friday night.

On Monday during morning meeting, teachers will reassure students that they are safe in school, Williams told parents.

"Our guidance counselors and administrators will also be available to meet with children that might be having extra difficulty with what they have heard from the news and friends," he said. "Please know that we have your children's safety at the forefront of our minds at all times."

In the meantime, he encouraged parents to remind their children that there are procedures in place to keep children and adults safe at school.

"Throughout the year, our students are excellent in all of our safety drills that include lockdown and shelter in place," wrote Williams. "In fact, we have been commended by both the Bedford Fire and Police Departments on how seriously our students and staff perform in these drills."

Patrick Boodey, principal at Woodman Park School, an elementary school in Dover, said teachers there also will address the tragedy at morning classroom meetings on Monday. A guidance counselor will be available if students need extra help, he said.

"We're going to let the kids bring it up," Boodey said. "The flags will be at half-staff and they're going to know why."

Boodey said the time of year makes the tragedy even harder to deal with. "You're talking about children who still believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and magic," he said. "We're trying to find age-appropriate ways not only of getting them ready for such an emergency, but also to explain it if they have questions."

Still, he said, the season also could also provide a welcome distraction for young children. "It's the week before Christmas and a lot of kids are excited," he said. "I hate to say it, but that will be one of the pluses of this week."

Mark Joyce, executive director of New Hampshire School Administrators Association, said it's important for school leaders to reassure youngsters that their schools are safe. "There's adult supervision and the adults are all trained and vigilant, and the buildings are all secure and tight," he said. "While it's a tragic event, I would think we could just reassure them that schools are among the safest of places to be."

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Shawne Wickham may be reached at Sunday News correspondent Kimberly Houghton contributed to this report.

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