As thousands of young students return to class for the first time since word of the Newtown school shooting spread, Capital Region administrators are working to make sure those children are safe, and feel safe.
Over the weekend, Greater Amsterdam District Superintendent Tom Perillo contacted school principals and teachers to review security protocols.
“You always have to prepare for the worst,” he said, adding that his schools all have solid security systems.
There are cameras inside and out, the doors are all locked, operating on a buzz-in system, and all visitors must scan their ID cards at the door.
According to a statement Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central Schools Superintendent Patrick McGrath released Sunday, “The BH-BL leadership team has been in contact throughout the weekend discussing security in our own schools. While we have many effective policies in place, the Newtown tragedy will accelerate our plans to incorporate additional best practices into our security protocol.”
Most area schools have had strong security systems since the Columbine school shooting. According to Scotia-Glenville Central School District Spokesman Robert Hanlon, aside from getting staff up to speed on those security systems, there’s not a lot of room for improvement.
“All schools follow these same procedures,” he said, “but the guy with the gun doesn’t have to follow procedures.”
He pointed out that study after study shows that children are safer at school than in their own homes and neighborhoods.
He said the best thing for area districts is to not change at all.
“When you call attention to something, kids start to wonder if they should worry about it,” he said. “We think that normalcy and routine is what they need right now.”
Scotia-Glenville isn’t the only district tackling the emotional fallout of Friday’s shooting with a level of normalcy.
“Our plan is to model calm and control and to demonstrate reassurance that the daily structure of their young lives will not change,” wrote Barbara Messier, principal of Lake Avenue Elementary School in Saratoga Springs, in a letter to parents over the weekend.
She is encouraging her teachers not to avoid the subject of the school shooting, but to answer any questions if students should ask.
“We will not pretend the tragedy did not happen or that it is not serious, but will again continue with assurances that the structure of their daily lives will not change and that they are very safe here at Lake Avenue School.”
Perillo said that while he does not expect first-graders to come to class with questions about the shooting and their own safety, there are crisis intervention teams in every building and school psychologists to discuss any fears and concerns they might have.
“We encourage people to send their children back to school Monday,” he said, “School is one of the safest places a kid can be.”