On Monday, Wentzville School District Superintendent Dr. Terry Adams sent a second letter to parents in the wake of the Newtown/Sandy Hook school shootings.
Adams assured parents that all schools in the district have security cameras and that all entrances are locked during the day and entrance is only allowed through main offices. Teachers and staff are trained in emergency response procedures and there are crisis plans in place. School also hold intruder drills.
Adams also states that police believe the rumors about violence at Holt High School during finals week are not credible. Rumors about finals-week violence have circulated in past years too.
The entire text of the letter, which includes tips for helping children deal with the tragedy, follows.
I understand many of you are anxious about school safety in light of the tragedy in Connecticut. Our hearts are heavy for the families of the children and school staff who were senselessly taken on Friday morning. It is all very difficult to comprehend. I want to reassure you that we take student safety very seriously in the WSD.
During times like this it is only natural to think of our own children. As you may have heard, we have been concerned recently about rumors of potential violence at Holt High School. It is not unusual to have these types of rumors circulate at one of our secondary schools during finals week, however we take all rumors of violence very seriously. We have been working with the Wentzville Police Department and at this point they do not feel that this rumor has any credible basis, but we are adding additional officers at Holt this week as a precaution. Social media has spawned and fueled this rumor and similar ones in the past. Please be aware that there is also a good chance that as the week goes by the nature of the rumor changes and it involves a different school or a different scenario, but know that we will continue to work diligently to ensure the safety of our students at all of our schools.
As a result of the passage of Proposition A in 2008, all of our school buildings are equipped with security cameras and the entrances were renovated with the latest safety measures in mind. All exterior doors are locked during the instructional day, and the only entry allowed is through the main school office. Classroom doors can also be locked from the inside to prevent entry at any time.
All staff members in our district, including teachers, administrators, and support staff, are trained in emergency response procedures. We have crisis plans in place for each of our buildings to deal with emergency situations, including those similar to the shooting that occurred in Connecticut. We also hold regular drills, including an intruder drill, which helps teach the right procedures and precautions to our staff and students.
As I have mentioned before, our school district has a strong partnership with local law enforcement agencies, and we work with them closely to ensure that our schools are as safe as possible. Our high schools are each staffed with a full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) and additional officers are quick to respond when help is needed. All of our middle and elementary schools are also visited regularly by school resource and/or D.A.R.E. officers as well.
Your children may wish to discuss what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary. Counselors in our buildings are available to help students who have been affected by the tragedy in Connecticut, or who are worried about the possibility of similar incidents. Here are some helpful tips for parents and students from the National Association of School Psychologists:
- Model calm and control. Children take their emotional cues from the significant adults in their lives. Avoid appearing anxious or frightened.
- Reassure children that they are safe and 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Observe children’s emotional state. Depending on their age, children may not 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
This is good information for all of us to keep in mind when discussing this type of tragedy with children. It is critical that our students feel safe at school so they are free to learn. Remember that students take cues from adults so although we are all shaken by this tragedy, we need to reassure our students through our words and actions that in the WSD, school will continue with a normal instructional schedule.
Your help is also important to our safety and security efforts. When you visit a school, you should always get a visitor’s pass from the office. As a parent, you can also remind your child how important it is for them to alert a teacher or Principal if they see or hear anything that causes concern. Please be assured that the Wentzville School District has the safety and best interests of our students and staff in mind at all times. We will work together to ensure that our procedures for preventing and dealing with dangerous situations are as strong as possible, and that our children are protected.
Superintendent Dr. Terry Adams