Connecticut shootings hit home

Published 10:28 am Monday, December 17, 2012

The impact of 20 students killed Friday at an elementary school in Connecticut was felt far and wide, including education officials here in the Roanoke-Chowan area.

Locally, school superintendents in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties all expressed sadness in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, a small town 60 miles northeast of New York City. There, a gunman identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed at least 26 people; the 27th victim was his mother at their home located approximately five miles from the school.

The thought of young, innocent students among the deceased prompted Hertford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Perry to devise a quick plan of action in an effort to help local youngsters deal with this tragic event.

“News travels fast in this day and age and I’m fairly certain our students are aware of what occurred Friday morning in Connecticut,” Perry stated. “If our students are in need of counseling to help them make some sense of this tragedy then we’ll have counselors available for them by Monday of next week.”

Friday’s tragic event also served as a reminder for Perry to make his principals aware of the protocol used in case of such emergency situations.

“Upon learning of what occurred up in Connecticut, I immediately sent an email to each of our district’s principals to remind them to take certain precautions, things we do all the time, but there’s nothing wrong with reminding myself and them from time to time,” he stressed. “Like I said, these precautions are nothing new to us, but we all need to remain alert and vigilant at all times in our continuing efforts to ensure the safety of the students and staff at each of our schools.”

Bertie County Schools Superintendent Elaine White also noted how safety is a top priority within the public schools there.

“This incident reminds us of our responsibility to put precautions in place to make sure our children are protected,” she said. “We have a number of precautions in place, including a bell system in all the schools which requires a person to be rung in (gain entrance to a school) during the school day.”

Bertie County students are also reminded on a regular basis to be on the alert if they see strangers on campus and to let staff members know if they witness anything suspicious.

“We spend quite a bit of time with our staff talking about keeping children safe and being watchful,” White said. “There are also codes in place when any problem is noted in the building.”

White said there are School Resource officers at Bertie High School and Bertie Middle School and that those officers can move to other schools if a need arises.

Finally, she said it was helpful for school districts to have a good relationship with local law enforcement.

“We have a good relationship with the Sheriff John Holley and his staff as well as our local police departments,” White said. “That is certainly beneficial to all of our schools.”

White said her first reaction to Friday’s deadly incident was compassion for the families.

“Words can’t express the way I feel,” she stated. “Immediately, my heart goes out to the families and that school community. It will be extremely hard on them the next few days and for a long time to come.”

Dr. Eric Bracy, Superintendent of Northampton County Public Schools, expressed his sympathy to the families impacted by this senseless act of violence.

“I echo what President Obama said….it’s a tragedy, and the students had their entire lives ahead of them,” Bracy remarked. “Words cannot express the sadness that I feel for the families of the students and staff members.”

Bracy said Northampton Schools do have procedures in place for emergency situations.

“We will review our procedures and look for ways to improve them,” he stated.

One of the key things that local schools may want to address is how to be better informed of the ripple effects of situations involving domestic violence.

“We have discussed that very topic,” Perry said. “As of right now we have to rely on a spouse or a member of the community with knowledge of such situations to make us aware of what is occurring within a family. Basically, that’s the only way we know of these situations, but we need to explore that deeper, which will lead us to be even more aware of what may be coming at us down the road if and when a domestic situation spills outside a family environment.”

In an effort to heighten security at Hertford County Schools, Perry said a safety drill has already been scheduled.

“The incident in Connecticut didn’t prompt that, we had previously set the drill for early next year,” Perry said. “We will include having comprehensive dialogue with our local law enforcement agencies as part of that safety program.”

Perry also touched on one other aspect of Friday’s deadly event.

“For some, this is not the happiest time of the year; for some, the holidays may bring out the worst in a person and it’s a time of the year where we need to be the most vigilant,” he concluded.