Distance doesn't separate the tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting from the hearts, minds and fears of local parents, children and school officials.
The Upshur County Board of Education officials took time during a regular board meeting Tuesday to outline what safety procedures are in place for county schools and to have a preliminary discussion about what safety procedures are being studied in response to the shooting.
Because the recent tragedy continues to weigh heavily on the minds of many board members, teachers, staff and parents, superintendent Scott Lampinen wanted to address some of the safety programs and procedures already practiced by the county.
After the events in Connecticut, Lampinen said, "We should start sharing a little bit more." He doesn't want to outline intimate details about safety plans to the public to avoid someone using those details to plan an attack.
"There's are some things we don't want the bad guys to know," Lampinen said.
The county's response to the tragedy was immediate. Lampinen met with school principals during the weekend following the shooting and plans to meet with them again this week. He will also meet with school counselors who are available to help students come to terms with the tragedy. By Monday, he had written a letter to parents in response to the tragedy that included a supporting article to enlighten parents about ways to help children cope with tragedy.
"Like communities and school districts across America, we are heartbroken and devastated by the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that took place last Friday," Lampinen stated in the letter.
The letter stated that Upshur County Schools consider safety and security a priority. The county school system has safety and security plans in place. Those plans include staff training, access security systems and emergency drills.
"We felt that this was so important to get it out that we literally made a copy and hand-delivered it to all our schools (Monday) so they were in the hands of parents (that evening)," Lampinen said, adding that the letter also is available on the school board's website.
Nineteen drills that have followed various mock scenarios have already been conducted this school year. Some of the drills have addressed staged scenarios such as weather, lockdown, bomb threats, a missing person, evacuations and medical emergencies. One scenario taught the staff how to handle a situation where a teacher sees a gun in the backpack of a student. All of these scenarios can help train staff and students about what to do in various emergency situations. Schools conduct drills each month.
On the reverse side of employee identification cards is a list of codes used in the access safety plan. Those codes identify what the emergency situation is by using plain language instead of color codes. This helps to eliminate any confusion about the situation.
Teachers and staff receive extensive training at the beginning of the school year and are reminded about contents of that training every few months. Every school is visited at random every month for "door checks," a study conducted by safety consultant Jeff Harvey, who checks every school building door to make sure that all of them are closed and locked. The monthly report is given to the school board and school principal detailing exactly what doors were locked or propped open.
Many school employees have a new digital radio. The radios have a button that can be pressed if an emergency or threat should arise. The school principal and county Office of Emergency Management can then listen in through the device. Not all employees have the new digital radios this year, but the school board will consider the purchase of additional radios to extend to all employees in the future, as well as other helpful improvements.
"We constantly are looking at our safety procedures," Lampinen said, adding that there is an Upshur County Schools Safety Committee that encompasses school employees, first responders, law enforcement and the Office of Emergency Management. The committee meets a minimum of twice a year to review safety procedures. New ideas and additions to procedures may be discussed by the committee and the board.