STMA Schools: We grieve for Sandy Hook

(Editor’s Note: Supt. Jim Behle submitted the following press release on behalf of St. Michael-Albertville Schools.)

Our thoughts and prayers are for the children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the community and families of Newtown affected by the tragedy. While the shooting happened somewhere else, we grieve as parents, educators and community members for the senseless loss of lives.

Whenever a national tragedy occurs such as at Sandy Hook, children, like many people, may be confused or frightened. Most likely they will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. As children return to school on Monday, school personnel will help children cope first and foremost by establishing a sense of safety and security. As more information becomes available, adults can continue to help children work through their emotions and perhaps even use the process as a learning experience.

We recognize that on Monday, Dec. 17, because of the weekend some children will come to school with no awareness of the tragedy while others will have discussed it with parents and friends or watched television coverage. At the elementary schools, rather than involving children in structured activities about the event, STMA will respond to children’s feelings and questions. Explanations will be age appropriate.

• Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Children are given simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.

• Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discussions may focus on efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.

• Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Discussions may emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.

 

Following are district procedures for this tragedy:

1. Assure children that they are safe and that schools are well prepared to take care of all children at all times.

2. Maintain structure and stability within the schools.

3. Monitor students for any signs of fear, anxiety or emotional stress, notify parents about their child and include school psychologists, and counselors in meeting with students, when necessary.

4. Be aware of students who may have recently experienced a personal tragedy or a have personal connection to victims or their families. Even a child who has merely visited the affected area or community may have a strong reaction. Provide these students extra support if necessary.

5. Respond to students questions with age appropriate information.

6. Provide teachers with information about what to say and do for children in school and at home.

7. Monitor or restrict viewing scenes of the event as well as the aftermath.

Safety and security of our students and staff is our number one priority. The district has comprehensive emergencies plans and procedures for fourteen different types of emergencies that are updated annually and are in place to help avoid tragedies such as this one to the extent possible.

The plans and procedures have been developed using information from the Secret Service Agency, state emergency agencies and local law enforcement. They include lockdown, evaluation and relocation procedures as well as crisis teams for post event counseling and support. Staff and students practice emergency drills.

The district has an outstanding and direct relationship with our local law enforcement agencies. The Wright County sheriff’s office and school district fund two school resource officers in the schools who are trained law enforcement officials. STMA will use the details from the Sandy Hook tragedy to review our plans and make any changes.

Parents are encouraged to contact the school if they have questions about the district response, how to respond to their children’s questions or concerns, or if they are concerned about their child’s response to the tragedy.

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