Schools continue as usual in wake of tragic shootings

by Dennis Dalman

Administrators and teachers in Sartell’s public schools met before classes began Monday to share thoughts about school safety. They also met after the school day to share any ideas of how school safety policies can be strengthened.

No definite conclusions were drawn or adopted, but school safety will certainly be revisited by administration, staff, teachers, parents and school board members in the future. In fact, school emergency procedures at the schools are always in a state of being fine-tuned and reviewed.

The horrific killings of 20 school children and six adults in Newtown, Conn. on the morning of Dec. 14 by a school shooter continue to sadden and outrage the world.

Randy Husman, principal of Oak Ridge Elementary School in Sartell, said administrators and staff at Sartell schools became aware, via Internet sources, about the shootings right after they happened, but nobody at the time had a clue just how horrific the killings were or how many had died. Later, the full force of the awful news devastated all who heard it at the schools.

Sartell’s two elementary schools, Oak Ridge and Pine Meadow, are functioning well, Husman said. All of the teachers, administrators and other staff members are very careful not to alarm students. A school social worker is available for students at both schools if students and/or their parents need to talk about the Connecticut tragedy.

Husman and other education experts are recommending parents do not bring up the subject unless their children ask questions, express fears or show signs of insecurity. Then parents should assure the students they will be safe in their own schools and that what happened is children were hurt in a faraway school by a person who did bad things. Husman said parents should not over-elaborate; they should keep their answers simple, always with reassurances to the children that everyone loves them and they will be safe in their schools.

Husman also recommends parents or guardians limit the television and computer time of elementary-aged children during the coming week or so, as photos and news about the victims and the perpetrator will be ever-present. Parents and other adults who express horrror, sadness or outrage about the killings should do so away from children. Experts say children who see parents in stressful emotional states will begin to worry they are not safe. Children who do not know anything about the shootings should not be told about them, experts advise, and if parents must talk about the tragedy, they should keep it simple, vague and then minimize it as a faraway sad thing that happened. Parents, for instance, should say the children were “hurt,” not killed.

Husman said all schools in Sartell have had emergency plans in place for years in the unthinkable occurrence an intruder would try to wreak havoc. He said emergency lock-down and exit drills take place five times a year in the schools. In some cases, teachers are notified in advance of the drills; at other times, they are not told beforehand. In addition, the schools have many other plans that would fall into place immediately in case of an emergency, including instant contact with all emergency agencies and safety protocols within the schools that involve aspects that cannot be released to the general public.

The best response to the Connecticut shootings, Husman said, is to do activities with children to keep them happy and busy. Family togetherness while doing fun things, he said, is one of the best ways to make children feel safe and secure.

The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School took the lives of 12 girls and eight boys – most of them first-graders. Six female adults who worked in the school, including its principal, also died while trying to protect the children from the 20-year-old shooter. Two adults were injured and are now recuperating and doing well. The shooter took his own life at the school. Before he went to the school, he shot and killed his mother, then took three of her guns (one of them an assault rifle, two others handguns) to the school where he shot his way in through a barrier and began his indiscriminate slaughter.

As of press time Wednesday, the investigation into the incident was still underway, with details still sketchy or unknown about many factors, including the killer’s possible motives.

The incident sent shock waves throughout the nation, causing many to call for bans on assault weapons, beefed-up school security and a new emphasis on help for the mentally ill.

President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned speech during a memorial service Sunday in Newtown for those who died in the vicious attack.

“Can we honestly say we’re doing enough to keep our children – all of them – safe from harm?” Obama asked the audience. “I think the answer is no. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.”

As personal news of the victims was released to the public, the sad news became even sadder as people learned the names of each victim, saw photos of their smiling faces and heard about the talents, hobbies and hopes of each child. It was the latest of the many school shootings that have plagued the nation in recent years. The worst, in terms of number of victims (32), was the Virginia Tech incident in which a lone gunman went on a killing spree on the campus. Many people, however, are calling the Connecticut shootings the “worst” in the nation’s history because of the number of children murdered, as well as six heroic school staff members.

Dennis Dalman

Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.
Dennis Dalman
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