Newtown shooting prompts safety evaluations, local counseling help

Dec. 18, 2012 @ 05:03 AM

With the nation still reeling from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week in Newtown, Conn., local schools are taking varied approaches in dealing with their own students this week.

Representatives for Moore County Schools couldn’t be reached, but public schools in Lee, Chatham and Harnett counties worked over the weekend to prepare counselors and other support staff in case individual students, or even entire schools, asked for help. However, unless someone asks, it will be business as usual.

“Each school will kind of do what they think is best for their individual site,” said Johnnye Waller, the Lee County Schools’ director of student resources, giving a sentiment that was common to public and private school administrators around the area. “We just wanted to make sure we had the resources in place in case anyone requested it.”

The districts also sent out messages to stakeholders in various ways. Lee, Moore and Chatham schools all posted messages on their websites expressing grief for the Newtown victims, promising local support for anyone who needs it and providing information or links to websites with advice for parents and teachers in the wake of such a tragedy.

Harnett County distributed a letter to staff Friday, containing information about dealing with questions about the tragedy, and also sent parents a separate letter Monday afternoon.

Stephen Coble, school administrator for Lee Christian School, said his school has worked closely with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to develop a crisis management plan in case of an emergency. The school won’t address students directly about the shootings, he said, but the matter has been raised frequently in prayers, and counselors are prepared to work with individuals.

Lee Christian doesn’t have any guards or resource officers on campus, but Coble said many parents are in the military or law enforcement and frequently stop by the school, whether it’s to pick up and drop off their kids, eat lunch or visit for some other reason — which he said does give some added, albeit unreliable, security throughout the day.

Grace Christian School was the exception to the rule Monday, gathering its students for chapel and speaking to the whole group about the shootings.

“These kind of things happen because (perpetrators) have a lack of hope, and obviously we offer hope in the form of Jesus Christ,” Headmaster Bill Carver said he told the assembly. “And the most important thing is reaching out to the community and instilling that belief and that hope.”

Like Lee Christian, Grace doesn’t have a security officer and would rely on the Sheriff’s Office in emergencies. He said this shooting has made administrators take a serious look at how accessible the whole complex — containing the church, school and other buildings — is throughout the day.

Each public school district has student resource officers stationed at middle school and high school campuses. Administrators said that while those officers can get to an elementary school quickly in the event of a crisis and also check in sporadically, there are no officers stationed specifically at those schools. Each district did announce plans to reexamine its security over the coming days.