School leaders across the country have been communicating heartfelt condolences and messages of comfort and assurance to parents and children that their schools are safe in the aftermath of the mass killing inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. last Friday.
On Long Island, school district officials have affirmed that the safety of their students is their highest priority, that security policies are being scrutinized and that measures are being implemented to respond to dangerous intruders.
Dominick Palma, Ph.D., superintendent of Merrick Schools, said in a statement, “While it is difficult to know if any level of security could have prevented this tragedy, it is important that we, in Merrick, reflect upon our safety procedures. Consistent with New York State regulation, Merrick Schools maintain updated safety procedures for a wide range of crises. Among these are procedures to respond to an intruder at school.”
Palma said that Merrick’s schools are kept locked, front entrances are monitored by a staff member and during outdoor activities, staff members are vigilant for people on school grounds. He added that the district regularly works with Nassau County Police Department POP Officers to review procedures and suggest enhancements.
In response to the tragedy, Dr. Carole Hankin, superintendent of Syosset Central School District said, “In the past, the district has consulted with an FBI expert on the best security practices in a school setting and have applied the suggestions in our schools. The safety of our students is a top priority in Syosset, and we will continue to evaluate our security measures and procedures to ensure the utmost protection and to promote a safe learning and working environment.”
Nancy Carney, superintendent of the Riverhead Central School District also assured parents and students that safety is a top priority and added, “As many of you know, we have security guards posted at each building, each of whom undergoes extensive training mandated by New York State. Our buildings have self-locking exterior doors and security cameras to allow us to monitor, remotely, all entrances and hallways. Additionally, our administrators and security officials carry emergency radios with them at all times.”
Students in Riverhead also regularly practice early release drills, lock-down drills, lock-out drills and 12 fire drills per year.
But school officials also have to deal with the psychological repercussions of this overwhelming tragedy.
In response, Long Island school districts are offering counseling and services to help children and parents cope. Schools are staffed with experienced psychologists and social workers who are prepared to respond to the needs of both parents and students. Parents are encouraged to provide those professionals with information they may need to assist their children. Teachers and staff members are on the alert for signs of children who may be experiencing reactions and are ready to notify parents of any concerns.
For parents who need help in talking to their children about this violent incident, The National Association of School Psychologists has written an advisory document called “Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers.”
Riverhead School District has offered guidelines prepared by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network on talking to your children about this tragedy called “Talking to Children About the Shooting.”
Palma closed his statement by saying, “It is impossible for any of us to make sense of the unthinkable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. However, if we stand together as a community we will find strength. Please keep those affected in your thoughts and prayers.”
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SOURCES: Merrick.k12.ny.us, SYOSSETISTOPS.ORG, riverhead.net