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December 20. 2012 11:50AM

Hooksett schools say they’re safe in wake of shooting

As the nation struggles to make sense of the madness and tragedy of that brutal Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, local school districts find themselves in a particularly difficult position as they labor to keep their children safe and make them feel safe.

“Security can be (so) overly secure that it creates a sense of fear. So striking that balance between making a school a safe haven for youngster and making them safe is the trick. We’ve had too many tragedies to learn from,” said SAU 15 Superintendent Charles “Phil” Littlefield. “At Columbine –those kids threw their weapons on the roof and walked into school (unarmed). So if somebody wants to commit a senseless act, we have to be able to think of every conceivable scenario and take reasonable and cautious efforts to prevent it.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Connecticut school tragedy, school districts labored to inform parents and comfort the children without creating new anxieties.

SAU 53, serving Allenstown, Chichester, Deerfield, Epsom and Pembroke, sent out alert notes to parents over the weekend, and many principals had meetings with faculty. For the children who needed it, principals made counselors available. On Monday, Dec. 17, when parents were dropping off their children, teachers, principals and staff were waiting outside to receive them.

“What we’re stressing with this is to tell the students it’s OK to be sad and to talk to adults about that, but we’re not trying to overemphasize the incident,” said SAU 53 Co-Superintendent, Helene Bickford. “Some kids may have been protected from that in their families, and why create an issue if it’s not there to begin with. Many kids are pretty resilient.”

At SAU 15, serving Auburn, Hooksett and Candia, the district worked over the weekend, holding a conference call with the governor and the Committee of Emergency Management Saturday, Dec. 15. Officials at every school developed a letter to parents, which they either emailed or posted on their website. Principals met with teachers before students arrived for the week to discuss the incident.

“Our goal will be to make school as normal as possible, so youngsters see it as an emotionally and physically safe place to be,” said SAU 15 Littlefield. “We’re not going to address it unless kids bring it up.”

Littlefield has also asked principals to schedule a meeting with the parents to explain the district’s security measures and address any concerns. Parents have e-mail the SAU 15 office already with questions about security plans. They were made anxious by the fact that Sandy Hook had emergency plans itself, which failed to stop Friday’s tragedy.

Schools in both SAU 15 and SAU 53 have a buzz-in system with double doors, barring access to school-hour visitors who don’t identify themselves or the receptionists don’t allow. Typically, video cameras are installed over the entrance. Additional measures, such as security cameras Pembroke Academy has installed in the building, can supplement the system. Crisis plans and lockdown drills aim to prepare children and teachers for the unthinkable.

“This is just a horrific, traumatic event. I think we all feel it could have been any of us, but we have security measures at all the schools and we’re there for the kids. This is what we do every day,” said Bickford. “I think we have good measures in place now. This always reminds us to be vigilant. I think teachers are looking at exits to their classroom, how secure their classrooms are. There may be tweaks, but we have a pretty good system in place right now.

“Schools put a lot of these measures in after Columbine. So, we have crisis plans, we do lockdown drills as a matter of course,” Bickford continued. “We’re prepared. I mean, you’re never prepared, but we do what we can to be prepared.”


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