Mid-South Looks at School Safety Following Connecticut Shooting

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(Memphis) Many parents in the Mid-South thought immediately of their children upon learning of the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT Friday morning.

The event caused them and school officials to look at current safety measures in place at MidSouth schools.

Memphis City Schools told News Channel 3 that every school has an emergency management plan. Their everyday safety measures include the following:

- All doors are locked

- There are security cameras at entrances and throughout schools

- Visitors must be buzzed in via a visual monitoring system

- Visitors are required to report to the office for check-in

- MCS Security Officers and MPD Officers are assigned to schools

- Metal detector searches at schools

In Mississippi, the state's department of education trains school resource officers to be on campuses statewide.

In DeSoto County, there is a school resource officer at almost every campus.

They undergo 40 hours of training per year, 16 of which include training in active shooter scenarios.

School staff are also trained in avoiding violent confrontation.

While all these measures make parents feel better, they said that the Newtown shooting showed you can't predict everything.

"Every day they go to school. You pray that they go to school, pray that they be safe, and come home safe. You never know," said Anthony Singleton.

"I said, I hope that will never ever happen to her," one mom said, thinking about her 12-year-old daughter.

The parents do feel better knowing most schools have strict procedures for visitors.

"Where my son goes, you have to be buzzed in to come into the school, and same with my daughter`s school. You have to be buzzed in," Singleton said.
Doug Blankenship's son is only four months old, but he already goes to daycare. And that daycare has a high-tech way of ensuring safety.

"We scan into the building so we have a magnetic keycard access," Blankenship said.

Still, that process doesn't stop some adults from causing trouble. News Channel 3 recently reported parents assaulting girls inside East High School.

Earlier this week, we reported an adult threatening a student in the Westwood High School cafeteria.

Memphis City Schools said there is a strict procedure for visitors to sign into the office, and security officers are nearby if they step out of line.

"You can`t do anymore than that, because you don`t want the kids to feel like they`re in prison, but you can monitor behavior. And once that behavior standard is breached, there have to be consequences," said Kenneth Whalum Jr., a Shelby County Schools commissioner.

He suggests banning the adults who violate policy.

Whalum also recognizes that the metal detectors don't always work, and not every person can be screened every day.

He asks the bigger question of what drives people to bring weapons to a school, which creates the need for metal detectors to begin with.

Whalum urges parents and those serving the school system to reassure children not only that they will remain safe at school, but also to squash the idea of confusion and conflict in the school merger.

He said for a young child, it all blends into one topic: schools. He said that instead of confusion, that child needs to feel confident that adults are working in their best interest and that they will be protected.

The difficult part of the conversation will be answering why this shooting in Newtown took place.

"The honest answer? I don`t know. But you know what? I love you, and I`m not going to let anything happen to you," Whalum said.

For tips on having a conversation with your children about this tragedy, see the following:

A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope

Tips for Parents and Teachers

Whenever a national tragedy occurs, such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters, children, like many people, may be confused or frightened. Most likely they will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help children cope first and foremost by establishing a sense of safety and security. As more information becomes available, adults can continue to help children work through their emotions and perhaps even use the process as a learning experience.

All Adults Should:

  1. Model calm and control. Children take their emotional cues from the significant

    adults in their lives. Avoid appearing anxious or frightened.

  2. Reassure children that they are safe and (if true) so are the other important adults in their lives. Depending on the situation, point out factors that help insure their immediate safety and that of their community.

  3. Remind them that trustworthy people are in charge. Explain that the government emergency workers, police, firefighters, doctors, and the military are helping people who are hurt and are working to ensure that no further tragedies occur.

  4. Let children know that it is okay to feel upset. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy like this occurs. Let children talk about their feelings and help put them into perspective. Even anger is okay, but children may need help and patience from adults to assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.

  5. Observechildren’semotionalstate.Dependingontheirage,childrenmaynot express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can also indicate a child’s level of grief, anxiety or discomfort. Children will express their emotions differently. There is no right or wrong way to feel or express grief.

  6. Look for children at greater risk. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Be particularly observant for those who may be at risk of suicide. Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.

  7. Tell children the truth. Don’t try to pretend the event has not occurred or that it is not serious. Children are smart. They will be more worried if they think you are too afraid to tell them what is happening.

  1. Stick to the facts. Don’t embellish or speculate about what has happened and what might happen. Don’t dwell on the scale or scope of the tragedy, particularly with young children.

  2. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate. Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that the daily structures of their lives will not change. Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence and threats to safety in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. They will be more committed to doing something to help the victims and affected community. For all children, encourage them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Be a good listener!

10.Monitor your own stress level. Don’t ignore your own feelings of anxiety, grief, and anger. Talking to friends, family members, religious leaders, and mental health counselors can help. It is okay to let your children know that you are sad, but that you believe things will get better. You will be better able to support your children if you can express your own emotions in a productive manner. Get appropriate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.

What Parents Can Do:

  1. Focus on your children over the week following the tragedy. Tell them you love them and everything will be okay. Try to help them understand what has happened, keeping in mind their developmental level.

  2. Make time to talk with your children. Remember if you do not talk to your children about this incident someone else will. Take some time and determine what you wish to say.

  3. Stay close to your children. Your physical presence will reassure them and give you the opportunity to monitor their reaction. Many children will want actual physical contact. Give plenty of hugs. Let them sit close to you, and make sure to take extra time at bedtime to cuddle and to reassure them that they are loved and safe.

  4. Limit your child’s television viewing of these events. If they must watch, watch with them for a brief time; then turn the set off. Don’t sit mesmerized re-watching the same events over and over again.

  5. Maintain a “normal” routine. To the extent possible stick to your family’s normal routine for dinner, homework, chores, bedtime, etc., but don’t be inflexible.

Children may have a hard time concentrating on schoolwork or falling asleep at night.

  1. Spend extra time reading or playing quiet games with your children before bed. These activities are calming, foster a sense of closeness and security, and reinforce a sense of normalcy. Spend more time tucking them in. Let them sleep with a light on if they ask for it.

  2. Safeguard your children’s physical health. Stress can take a physical toll on children as well as adults. Make sure your children get appropriate sleep, exercise, and nutrition.

  3. Consider praying or thinking hopeful thoughts for the victims and their families. It may be a good time to take your children to your place of worship, write a poem, or draw a picture to help your child express their feelings and feel that they are somehow supporting the victims and their families.

  4. Find out what resources your school has in place to help children cope. Most schools are likely to be open and often are a good place for children to regain a sense of normalcy. Being with their friends and teachers can help. Schools should also have a plan for making counseling available to children and adults who need it.

What Schools Can Do:

  1. Assure children that they are safe and that schools are well prepared to take

    care of all children at all times.

  2. Maintain structure and stability within the schools. It would be best, however, not to have tests or major projects within the next few days.

  3. Have a plan for the first few days back at school. Include school psychologists, counselors, and crisis team members in planning the school’s response.

  4. Provide teachers and parents with information about what to say and do for children in school and at home.

  5. Have teachers provide information directly to their students, not during the public address announcements.

  6. Have school psychologists and counselors available to talk to students and staff who may need or want extra support.

  7. Be aware of students who may have recently experienced a personal tragedy or a have personal connection to victims or their families. Even a child

who has merely visited the affected area or community may have a strong reaction. Provide these students extra support and leniency if necessary.

  1. Know what community resources are available for children who may need extra counseling. School psychologists can be very helpful in directing families to the right community resources.

  2. Allow time for age appropriate classroom discussion and activities. Do not expect teachers to provide all of the answers. They should ask questions and guide the discussion, but not dominate it. Other activities can include art and writing projects, play acting, and physical games.

10. Be careful not to stereotype people or countries that might be associated with the tragedy. Children can easily generalize negative statements and develop prejudice. Talk about tolerance and justice versus vengeance. Stop any bullying or teasing of students immediately.

11.Refer children who exhibit extreme anxiety, fear or anger to mental health counselors in the school. Inform their parents.

12.Provide an outlet for students’ desire to help. Consider making get well cards or sending letters to the families and survivors of the tragedy, or writing thank you letters to doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals as well as emergency rescue workers, firefighters and police.

13.Monitor or restrict viewing scenes of the event as well as the aftermath. For information on helping children and youth with this crisis, contact NASP at (301)

657-0270 or visit NASP’s website at http://www.nasponline.org.

Modified from material posted on the NASP website in September 2001.

© 2002, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814, (301) 657-0270, Fax (301) 657-0275; http://www.nasponline.org