Local schools talk about safety policies in wake of Sandy Hook

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:12 am on Friday, December 21, 2012

Letters were sent home to parents in Belding, Carson City-Crystal, Central Montcalm, Greenville, Lakeview, Montabella, Montcalm Area Intermediate, Tri County and Vestaburg school districts this week in response to last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Columbine became a household name after two students murdered 12 classmates and one teacher and injured about two dozen more people before taking their own lives on April 20, 1999.

One week ago today, Sandy Hook joined the ranks of Columbine, albeit with an even more deadly outcome. A total of 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., along with the gunman’s mother, before the gunman took his own life.

Both were horrific massacres in educational facilities and both incidents sparked an important national debate over gun control, mental illness, violent culture and, mostly importantly, a solution.

Local school officials were quick to respond to last Friday’s tragedy by sending home letters to parents this week, expressing condolences to the community of Newtown, Conn., as well as outlining local safety policies in an effort to assuage fears of a similar attack happening locally. Many local districts also sent out a list of talking points to help parents engage in helpful conversation with their children about emergency situations.

Belding Area Schools

Belding Area Schools has a crisis management policy and procedure for all staff members, which is reviewed annually and is already scheduled to be reviewed for next year on Jan. 8 by the district’s crisis team, according to Superintendent Sara Shriver.

“Our building administrators conduct a minimum of three emergency crisis drills annually, as well as severe weather and fire drills,” Shriver said. “We will continue to update protocol with recommendations from local law enforcement and fire officials.”

Shriver sent home a letter to parents, extending “heartfelt thoughts and prayers of comfort and peace to the families, staff and community members of Newtown, Conn.”

“Many dear students and staff members lost their lives for reasons of which may never be explained,” the letter stated. “When situations of such horrific magnitude arise, it causes us to pause and think of procedures in place here at Belding Area Schools. It is the intention of each and every staff member to provide the safest learning environment for our students. Safety protocols are in place and procedures are continually practiced in the unfortunate event that building and district level lockdowns are necessary. The school district strives to maintain safe and caring schools through clear behavioral expectations, positive behavior interventions and supports and crisis planning and preparedness. Belding staff work hand in hand with local law enforcement and fire officials to develop crisis plans for many different situations in an effort to be prepared for every emergency instance.”

 Carson City-Crystal Area Schools

Carson City Police Chief Bruce Partridge met with Carson City-Crystal High School Principal Devin Pringle to review emergency plans earlier this week. Partridge also has training scheduled with his police officers on Jan. 4 to make sure they know how to respond to a deadly situation in the communities of Carson City, Crystal and Hubbardston.

Superintendent Kevin Murphy sent home a letter to parents in response to last Friday’s shooting.

“The Carson City-Crystal Area Schools family is deeply saddened by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Conn.,” the letter stated. “Our schools are the safest that I have experienced in my 20-year educational career spanning five districts. We maintain a single access entry point for visitors that remain locked throughout the entire school day, we have specific sections within our buildings that are key card access only and we have a heavily monitored technology system that enables us to posses the knowledge of who is in our buildings and to ensure nobody is walking the halls unattended. In addition, law enforcement is located in sight of main campus.

“All of our schools have detailed plans and protocols regarding school safety and crisis scenarios,” the letter stated. “We review these routinely with our faculty and staff, as well as conduct lockdown drills with our students. This week, the administration will continue the conversation regarding our safety/crisis plan in the wake of this situation.”

Central Montcalm Public School

Central Montcalm Public School has been dealing with its own rumored threats this week (see side story).

Superintendent Kristi Teall said Central Montcalm has regular district safety meetings, the next one being scheduled for Jan. 9. A staff email was sent out last Sunday night to prepare staff for potential fallout this week. Counselors and social workers were put on call to go anywhere they were needed for staff, students and parents. Administrators met to talk about possible needs, had individual building debriefing sessions and reviewed plans.

“We are answering any and all calls that come in to reassure our parents that we do put the safety of our children first and we are prepared to keep them safe,” Teall said. “All buildings require visitors to come to the office and check in. If they will be staying in a classroom or volunteering in some other capacity, they sign in. All classroom doors will be locked and closed. Once students are in the building, we have one point of entry that will remain unlocked. We conduct fire, tornado and lockdown drills several times a year. We continue to have a great working relationship with local authorities to assist us in any crisis situation that arises.”

Teall sent home a letter to parents addressing last Friday’s shooting.

“A terrible tragedy occurred in a school community in Connecticut,” the letter stated. “Although this event occurred several hundred miles away, it still causes concern in our own backyard. We are saddened and left with so many questions. Our hearts go out to the victims.

“I want to reassure you that we place the safety of our students as top priority,” the letter stated. “Taking care of your children is what we do.”

Greenville Public Schools

Greenville Public Schools Superintendent Pete Haines sent a letter home to parents as well.

“The last three days have been a time of loss and reflection for our entire nation,” the letter stated. “As the horrific events unfolded on Friday in Connecticut, our children were going about a typical school day. For some, the innocence of that day will never return. Evil entered the classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

Haines said Greenville school staff have spent years refining safety and security measures with tremendous support from law enforcement officials, particularly the Greenville Department of Public Safety.

“We train, practice and implement levels of security measures frequently in hopes our staff and students are able to respond instinctively to situations we never hope to live,” Haines said. “Recent bond-related improvements were directed to address vulnerabilities we had identified over the years, such as cameras, card key access at all buildings, communications systems and entry point modifications.”

However, “None could ever completely protect from the evil that entered that elementary school last Friday,” Haines said.

Lakeview Community Schools

Lakeview Community Schools Superintendent Kyle Hamlin said his district has a crisis plan in place and meets annually with law enforcement agencies, fire and rescue, first responders and Lakeview’s Department of Public Works to review procedures.

“Every district is required to practice safety drills a minimum of twice each year,” Hamlin said. “Some districts do more than required. These drills range from full lockdown to silent lockdown (threat outside, but not imminent). We will be meeting later this week to review what we have in place and discuss what else we can do to make our buildings more secure.”

Hamlin said a proposed school district bond vote in February could help the district improve current security measures relating to building access. He sent a letter home to parents in response to last Friday’s shooting.

“We are deeply saddened by the events that occurred in Newtown, Conn.,” the letter stated. “As this tragedy is broadcast nationwide, it is certain to spark important conversations with your child. As you comfort your child, please know that Lakeview Community Schools is a safe place to be. Measures we have in place to help create a safe environment include locking outside entry doors, security cameras throughout every building … I can assure you we will be meeting in the near future to review what we have in place and ask the question, ‘What else can be done?’ to make our buildings even more secure. This tragedy is a reminder that there are evil people in this world.”

Montabella Community Schools

Montabella Community Schools Superintendent Shelly Millis said her district works collaboratively with local emergency officials in reviewing and implementing emergency plans.

“Our county schools participate in safety meetings that bring all parties to the table to discuss school and community safety,” Millis said. “We will continue to review our procedures and make changes as appropriate. All of our school participate in drills twice a year that are focused on locking down the facility. Many times the drills are attended by local authorities to provide feedback and suggestions.”

Millis sent home a letter to parents, expressing her “deepest condolences to the Sandy Hook community.”

“Everyone was saddened by the events in Connecticut and left with questions of why so many innocent lives were lost,” the letter stated. “During this tragedy, I want to reassure everyone that Montabella Community Schools is doing everything that we can to ensure the safety of every student. We continue to strive to have a secure locked-down facility by having all exterior doors locked and utilizing a buzzer system for all visitors to gain entry.”

Montcalm Area ISD

Montcalm Area Intermediate School District Superintendent Dr. Scott Koenigsknecht sent a letter home to parents, expressing “heartfelt thoughts, prayers and condolences” to the Sandy Hook community, as well as outlining assurances about local school safety.

“In the wake of such a tragic event, I would like to take a moment to assure you that the MAISD and our local districts are committed to providing a safe and secure environment for all of our students and every person in our buildings and on our campuses,” the letter stated. “Safety and security protocols are in place and procedures are routinely practiced so that we are ready in the unfortunate event that building and district level lockdowns are necessary.

“We have an outstanding relationship with the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Department, Montcalm County Emergency Management Services and numerous local law enforcement officials, emergency managers and first responders throughout our area. We meet on a regular basis to review and discuss safety procedures and protocols. These meetings are attended by representatives from all our local school districts as well.

“Our highest priority is, and will always be, the safety of our students and staff,” the letter concluded.

Tri County Area Schools

“The Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy brings grief to our hearts that is difficult to comprehend,” stated Tri County Area Schools Superintendent Allen Cumings in a letter to parents. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Newtown, Conn., community members, but particularly the students and their families who will struggle with this tragedy for the rest of their lives.”

Cumings said Tri County has established consistent tornado, fire and lockdown procedures in order to assure student safety. The school district is assisted in this effort by the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office and Howard City Fire Department.

“The Tri County community has big hearts and a strong passion for our children,” Cumings stated. “Tri County Area Schools has a strong desire to protect all students. As a district, our staff continues to work together to provide a safe school environment. Our mission is to help every child achieve their best future, especially through the most difficult times.”

Vestaburg Community Schools

Vestaburg Community Schools Superintendent Jeff Beal sent a letter home to parents, saying “our hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to the victims and the survivors of Sandy Hook Elementary School that will undoubtedly face a daunting task of putting their community back together.”

Vestaburg parents were reminded to pick up and drop off children in the front north side of the school building. Students and guests were reminded to use designated parking spots and avoid parking along the road next to the building, as this blocks traffic and could prevent emergency vehicles from reaching the school. Students and staff were reminded not to prop doors open, including during sports practice times, evenings and weekends.

“There is only one public access to our building — the main entrance on the north side of the building and then you will need to be buzzed through the office doors,” Beal stated. “Our staff and students are trained not to let anyone in the building through any of the exterior doors.”

The Vestaburg district lost one of its own earlier this week when Chelsea Magoon, a 2009 graduate of Vestaburg High School, was killed in a double murder-suicide in Grand Rapids.

“With the shooting in Grand Rapids, our world seems to be a little scarier and the senseless violence a little closer,” Beal stated. “The Vestaburg Community School family is committed to providing a safe and secure education for all of our children. We openly welcome your input and ideas. We hope you will contact us with your thoughts and concerns and that you will share with us any information you may have about potentially violent acts that could endanger our students, staff or faculty.”

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