Are the schools prepared?Washington educators react to Friday’s Sandy Hook shooting
Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. traumatized the nation. School officials in Washington County said they were shocked by the news.
Stewart Elementary Principal Adam Miller said he felt terrible for the families of the victims.
“My first instinct was to think of the victims and their parents,” he said. “I prayed throughout the day for those families. I kept thinking about our own school, wondering if we are prepared for this.”
Washington Schools Superintendent Mike Jorgensen said every building in the district prepares for emergencies, such as a school shooting, through lockdown drills. The schools will run lockdown drills when the students are in the building, and the schools also invite the police and sheriff’s department into the buildings to perform SWAT training.
Jorgensen said all four school buildings in the district lock every door but one while school is in session.
“We have security cameras in all of our buildings,” he said. “In two of the buildings, we have secured entryways, which means everyone has to go through the office.”
Jorgensen added that every “parent or administrator has a big ball in the pit of their stomach right now.”
“It was a scary feeling on Friday,” he said. “Every time you hear about it, you know it could be your school next. This is the first time we’ve seen it happen to kids at this age level. It’s very depressing.”
Miller said the four buildings in the district develop the same lockdown procedures to allow for easy coordination with the police.
“We do a lockdown drill every year,” he said. “The police check to make sure our plan ran smoothly, then they debrief us on our emergency procedures.”
Miller said the teachers and administrators have a flip chart they go over about how to respond to various emergencies.
“We focus a lot on preparation,” he said. “If something were to happen, you have to react with the skills you’ve learned beforehand.”
Lincoln Elementary Principal Dave Hoffman said he was heartbroken to learn of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. He said he did not alert the students to it that afternoon because he did not want to scare them.
“That’s something that’s best for them to talk about with their parents,” he said. “We’ll let the schools do the follow-up.”
Hoffman said he wants to reassure parents and children that schools are a safe place.
“We try to make our buildings as safe as possible,” he said.
Hoffman said the joint training the teachers do with the police is normally conducted on teacher work days. He said the teachers just performed a lockdown drill a month or two ago.
Guns are not allowed on school premises in Iowa. Hoffman expects there will soon be further debate on guns, school safety, and mental issues at the federal level. He said he hopes that teachers do not have to carry guns in order to ensure safety in the schools, but he added that “things are sure headed that way.”
Jorgensen added that he also believed Sandy Hook followed all its safety procedures, but that did not prevent the tragedy. He said there is no way a school can prevent a shooting with 100 percent certainty.
Jorgensen has a meeting Wednesday with the police and the sheriff’s departments. He said it was planned before the Sandy Hook shooting and was not arranged as a reaction to it.
“We’re always reviewing safety procedures,” he said. “I’m sure that, as a result of what happened, there will be other guidelines and information that will change our plans. I have a feeling there will be a significant response on the federal level. Whether that’s through gun control or more money for security, I don’t know.”