With the nation still in shock over the events that transpired last week in Newtown, Conn., school security has once again resurfaced as a hot topic.
After the tragic loss of 27 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School, school districts in the region and around the country are taking time to reflect and re-evaluate. The universal consensus among the districts is that a review of safety plans and procedures is needed, however some are taking a more direct and immediate approach to ensuring safety in their buildings.
Danielle O'Connor, superintendent of the Frewsburg Central School district, has been active in the reviewing of her district's safety plans and has taken steps toward making adjustments and improvements.
A school bus rolls toward a memorial for victims of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Tuesday. Local school officials are reviewing their security plans in the wake of the Dec. 14 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"It is important that we always remain vigilant and that we always review with people the importance of school security," said O'Connor. "It is hard to say that I'm comfortable because so many unanticipated things can happen. We want to be well prepared and we never want our ego to be big enough to think that (an event like Sandy Hook) would ever happen here."
According to O'Connor, Frewsburg has been working with state police in determining the quality of its safety procedures. Troopers have been doing walkthroughs of the buildings and reviewing Frewsburg's safety security program.
"Many ideas (for improvement) have been brought forward and so we will be asking for support from law enforcement to help us determine which measures are most appropriate for Frewsburg," she said. "At this point, our roles are changing in that we do need to be more aware of what's happening and what steps are appropriate to take."
'NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE'
The increased presence of law enforcement personnel has already been felt at Jamestown High School. On Friday morning, following a police report regarding an unsubstantiated rumor of a threat against JHS, members of the Jamestown Police Department could be seen patrolling hallways and entrances throughout the building as the student body participated in its Penny Wars assembly.
Daniel Kathman, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools, released a statement on Thursday regarding the rumor.
"Over the last two days, several stories have been shared between students and community members regarding possible threats at Jamestown High School," said Kathman, in his statement. "It is very important for the public to know that we have uncovered no credible evidence of any threat to the students or staff at Jamestown High School."
He added: "We will continue in our collaborative effort (with JPD) to investigate any and all future reports and, of course, immediately respond should we uncover a genuine threat."
According to detective Lt. Paul Abbott of the JPD, school safety is a top priority.
"The safety of students and staff is paramount to both the Jamestown Police and Jamestown Public Schools," said Abbott. "We want to send a clear message that we are in the schools and around the schools. We want people to feel as safe as possible."
BACK TO BASICS
Most of the other school districts in the area are also in the process of reviewing their safety plans with law enforcement. The importance of safety has not been lost on anyone.
"Safety is our No. 1 priority," said Karen Moon, superintendent of the Clymer Central School district. "As all districts in the country are doing, Clymer is looking at our school security and safety plans - always trying to improve them. We are working with state and county law enforcement and with other resources to review our plans. Our staff is active in being aware and diligent about what needs to happen to keep our school as safe as we can."
Steve Penhollow, superintendent of the Falconer Central School district, had similar sentiments.
"The physical and emotional safety of our students is our top priority," Penhollow said. "We have safety committee meetings in each building and also at the district level. We have included our school resource officer, as well as local emergency management personnel, in the development and continuous review of our district safety plan."
In a statement to parents, Kimberly Moritz, Randolph Central School superintendent, pinpointed specific actions taken by her district. In addition to reviewing Randolph's emergency plans with law enforcement, Randolph has conducted additional drills to ensure the safe and efficient implementation of these plans.
"On Friday, we have our annual emergency drills planned," Moritz said in her Monday statement. "We will conduct more than just our annual lock-down, take cover, and emergency-go-home-early drills. We have a planned evacuation drill for Friday, a drill we haven't conducted in many years."
She continued: "Also, I've had several meetings this year with Lt. Edward Kennedy and others from the NYS Police about how we can work together to improve safety at RCS. Lt. Kennedy has extended an invitation for greater involvement in our schools that we have embraced. We have a longstanding good relationship with the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department and they have supported us as a community and a school district for many years."
Also on Monday, parents in the Chautauqua Lake Central School district received a statement from Ben Spitzer, district superintendent. In his statement, Spitzer included steps taken by the district to review its safety plan as well as tips for parents to help their children understand and cope with the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
According to Spitzer's statement, some of the actions taken by the district include: a review of the district safety plans by the district's School Safety Committee, the instruction of staff to review the district safety procedures and be more vigilant in their implementation, the monitoring of students for extreme reactions or concerns and subsequent referral to counselors as necessary.
"In addition to the above, staff have been asked to provide a sense of normalcy to our students," Spitzer said in his statement. "Families are encouraged to spend time together, validate children's feelings, ask for help as needed and find calm and relaxing activities to do at home. It is very important to limit children's exposure to media coverage. If children are watching the news or accessing information online, parents and caregivers should be available to talk to their children about it."
He added: "Over the next few weeks and months we will be evaluating and adjusting our safety procedures as appropriate and necessary. We will also be working closely with local law enforcement officials and neighboring school districts to discuss and share ideas on school safety."