Schools Re-Examine Security After Newtown Shooting
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
In the aftermath of Newtown, school officials and parents across the country were asking themselves the same question today: How safe is my school? NPR's Claudio Sanchez has that story.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: In Nashville, Tennessee, Ruth Rosenberg asked her daughter's first-grade teacher what school was going to be like today. Teachers there were told to downplay any discussion of the Newtown shooting since many kids still don't know what happened, including her 7-year-old daughter, says Rosenberg.
RUTH ROSENBERG: It's a 50-50 chance if she does find out, it's going to be from another child - which I wouldn't love, but I also trust the teacher 100 percent to handle it, if that happens; and then I could handle it at home.
SANCHEZ: Rosenberg says she's fought back tears, thinking about Newtown. After she dropped off her daughter this morning, she broke down on the way home. Another parent, Wehsong Zhou, walked his third-grade daughter to school. He's decided not to talk to his child about the shooting. She's just too young to be exposed to such tragedy, he says.
WEHSONG ZHOU: We cannot understand why this has happened, like this. It should not happen. It's against human nature.
SANCHEZ: Across the nation, parents debated whether to keep their kids home. Police departments deployed officers to patrol schools. Administrators reviewed their lockdown procedures; and psychologists and social workers were on standby, to help teachers talk to students who want to discuss the shooting in Newtown. Will Keresztes is associate superintendent of the Buffalo Public Schools.
WILL KERESZTES: Our social workers, and our school psychologists, are really stepping up. They're sharing a lot of information with each other. They're disseminating really good information to teachers with regard to students; and how to talk to students, and how to keep a sense of normalcy as best you can, in a situation like this.
SANCHEZ: In Hamden, Connecticut, just 30 miles east of Newtown, School Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz says nothing feels normal. She's called for a greater police presence on campuses indefinitely, and scheduled a district-wide meeting with parents and staff today.
FRAN RABINOWITZ: Because I felt that there was a feeling of helplessness out there about, so what's going to happen in the schools? And I wanted to bring people together. And it unfolded over the weekend, to the point where we said we need some comfort, too.
SANCHEZ: In Oakland, California, where an average of 20 school-age children are shot and killed outside school every year, district officials are also reviewing lockdown procedures. But district spokesman Troy Flint says most of the focus, for the next few days, will be on students' emotional well-being.
TROY FLINT: Our counselors are onsite. They are always on alert. I think what you need to understand is that we cope with violence on a daily basis here, so we have these procedures in place.
SANCHEZ: In many communities, though, school officials who may have once thought they were immune, are now stressing the need for armed police officers on campuses. Mo Canady is with the National Association of School Resource Officers, which trains most of the nation's 10,000 school police officers. He says arming teachers or administrators, as some have suggested, is another matter.
MO CANADY: There's a part of me that just kind of cringes at the liability of a school district doing that. Now, as of Friday, there are certainly some advocates for that. But it is a dangerous and slippery path to be on.
SANCHEZ: But Francisco Negron, legal counsel for the National School Boards Association, says the Newtown shooting could change some people's minds about that.
FRANCISCO NEGRON: It is a turning point. Now, the focus is on an external shooter. And so I think schools are going to try to understand whether or not they need to change their policies accordingly.
SANCHEZ: What those changes will be, Negron says, it's hard to say. But school safety policies, in the short term, will probably shift to more sophisticated surveillance technology, and a greater law enforcement presence in all schools. Claudio Sanchez, NPR News.
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