As the nation comes to grips with Friday’s deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., local law enforcement is showing a more visible presence at school campuses.
On Monday, uniformed personnel from the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, Bishop Police Department and California Highway Patrol were making their presence known as students arrived at and left school campuses from Bishop to Lone Pine.
Their presence, school administrators explained, was not in response to any direct threat to student safety, but rather to reassure both students and parents that local schools are safe environments for local youth.
Inyo County law enforcement and school officials also sought to reassure parents, students and community members that resources are available for anyone who needs them, including counseling. They’re also planning a countywide, multi-agency staff meeting next month to discuss the tragedy at Sandy Hook and what steps can be taken to ensure that it is not repeated locally.
“Safety is important,” Lone Pine School District Superintendent Victor Hopper said. “It’s paramount to us.”
Bishop School District Superintendent Barry Simpson said local schools are being proactive about concerns from parents and the public by opening lines of communication. Both Simpson and Hopper said they will be mailing letters to parents this week to inform them of measures their schools are taking to help students cope with the tragedy, and prevent similar scenarios locally.
“In light of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., I find it necessary first to express my heartfelt condolences to all the families that lost a loved one in this tragedy,” Hopper said in his letter to parents. “This was a senseless assault on students and staff in what we, as a civilized society, hold as the sanctity of safety – school; where parents entrust us with their precious children to help educate and mold as responsible members of society.”
On Monday, the first day of school after the Sandy Hook shooting, Lone Pine School Board President Le Roy Kritz and an officer from the California Highway Patrol were at the Lone Pine Elementary School campus as students arrived for school to reassure parents and students that the safety of kids at the school is being taken seriously.
“Let me assure you that the Comprehensive Safety Committee comprised of district staff, Inyo Sheriff’s Department, Southern Inyo Hospital and the Lone Pine Fire Department have been working on training students, teachers and support staff on protocols for various incidents (e.g., fire, earthquake and shooter) for a few years,” Hopper’s letter states. “We believe that by training, preparing and acting, we can help mitigate loss in the event of a disaster.”
Simpson said that Bishop schools had already taken similar steps earlier this year.
“This past year our School Emergency Response plans were re-worked and updated,” Simpson’s letter to families states. “In addition, we created a very detailed emergency drill that took place in October at each school site.” Simpson said drills conducted by the schools have included evacuation, earthquake, fire and lock-down procedures. “In light of this most recent tragedy, our staffs will be reminded this week about our lock-down procedures and additional emergency drills will be planned and carried out in the coming months.”
Simpson said Bishop schools have worked with the Bishop PD and Sheriff’s Department to have a more visible presence on and around school campuses.
“It is impossible to express how devastated and broken-hearted we all feel about the tragedy that occurred in the Newtown Public School District and Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Simpson said. “Whenever any school experiences violence and the lives of children and adults are lost, we struggle to find words to express our emotions and explain how this could have happened.”
Both Simpson and Hopper said school officials have fielded some phone calls from concerned parents, but concerns have been minimal. Simpson did say that one child was pulled from class Friday because of fears about the Connecticut shooting.
Local schools are offering counseling services to any student who has been impacted by the shooting and would like to seek help.
Simpson said Inyo County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Terry McAteer has called a multi-agency meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 15 that will include law enforcement, school personnel, fire and mental health official to discuss county-wide emergency response procedures and preparedness.
“The goal,” Simpson said, “will be to share the best practices for effective planning and preparedness. We know that any effort to do harm to our schools and communities can be reduced by the decisive actions of alert and prepared individuals.”
In closing, both Hopper and Simpson said their hearts go out to the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, and parents should rest assured that local schools are doing all they can to ensure the safety of their students.
“Quite simply, there is no adequate way to explain what happened,” Simpson said. “Our best hope is to use this horrific event as a strong reminder that our mission as educators begins and ends with student safety. To that end, I would like to assure our parents and community members that we as a faculty and administrative staff, as always, are committed to the development, review and practice of our emergency response procedures and protocols.”