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Shock, horror and disbelief were reactions felt by area school officials when they heard about the Dec. 14 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, which took the lives of 27, including 20 students.
Those emotions were followed closely by action to ease the minds of parents who have children in local districts. Most districts sent out emails or phone notifications shortly after learning of the Newtown, Conn. incident, many of which gave advice for helping Piatt County students deal with the tragedy.
“My first reaction was sheer shock,” said DeLand-Weldon Superintendent Gary Brashear. “A line that had never before crossed had been crossed. Grade school children were involved.”
“There are simply no answers for what happened. It’s devastating,” said Kenny Schwengel, superintendent of Atwood-Hammond.
And although it is difficult to safeguard schools against every threat, there will be plenty of talk in upcoming months in area districts as they update existing security plans.
Vic Zimmerman, superintendent of Monticello, said the district conducted a safety audit six years ago. That resulted in making sure personnel in school offices could see main entrances at all district buildings. Motion detectors and alarms were also installed in some areas.
The district opted not to install cameras in entryways, but discussion on that may be renewed in the wake of Sandy Hook.
“At that time we decided (cameras) was not a direction we felt Monticello wanted to go. In light of recent events, I’m sure those discussions will take place again at the board level.”
Dual lock systems for all doors may also be considered, but they cost an estimated $350 each. Such systems allow for teachers to lock doors from the inside.
At Blue Ridge’s Schneider Elementary School, a re-working of the entryway to better control access is being considered. The idea would be to require visitors to go through the office area before having access to any other portions of the building.
Several districts are also coordinating with local police to make sure school safety is pushed to the forefront, and to net advice from law enforcement officials.
Meetings with school staff have also been held to review safety plans, and more are planned in the future.
Bement Superintendent Daniel Brue said two meetings were held in that district the Monday following the shootings. One was to review the district’s emergency response plan, and the other was to go over staff members’ responsibilities should there be an incident.
“We will also be having drills with staff members during our teacher institute prior to the beginning of the second semester,” said Brue.
Keeping their children close
One result of Sandy Hook is that parents are doing all they can to spend time with their children, according to Mary Vogt, principal of Monticello’s Lincoln Elementary School.
“I’ve had more people come to school to eat with their children, and I think that’s great,” said Vogt, who’s building houses pre-school, kindergarten and first graders.
Principal Jean Handley of Monticello Middle School has similar stories, including one of a father who brought flowers for his daughter at school.
Meanwhile, all area schools are making school security a top priority.
“The safety and welfare of our students is our top priority,” said Brett Robinson, the superintendent at Cerro Gordo schools.
Journal-Republican correspondents Hannah Kibler and Kelly Youngblood also contributed to this story.