Students are safe at school, Kanawha official says
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's more than 600 miles from Charleston to Newtown, Conn., the site of Friday's horrific mass school shooting.
But many Kanawha County students and parents could still feel scared for school today.
It's crucial that teachers and parents let their children know they are safe when they come to school, said Dr. Bill Mullett, director of counseling for Kanawha County Schools.
"I think we need to tell our students, our young people, that the adults work very, very hard to (keep students) safe," Mullett said. "We want everybody to grow up and grow old and have a full life, have kids."
Mullett planned to meet with other school administrators Sunday evening to talk about how the school system could best help students cope.
It's very important for teachers and parents to reassure students of their own safety when they go to school, he said. That doesn't mean people need to lie about what happened; if children ask about the shooting, Mullett said an adult should ask them what they've heard and what they think about that information.
Such tragedies are thankfully rare, Mullett said, and teachers and parents should tell students as much. Teachers and school administrators should talk about the safety measures and drills that are in place at school. Students should be told the drills are practiced to help keep them safe, Mullett said.
There are two main procedures for Kanawha County Schools in the face of an emergency: sheltering in place and a lockdown.
Sheltering in place was implemented last week in the Sissonville area following a massive gas line explosion nearby. The order was quickly deemed unnecessary, but Mullett said the policy is in place in the event there is a chemical or similar emergency.
Cedar Grove Community School - the middle and elementary schools in Cedar Grove - were recently put on lockdown. The procedure went into effect after the school learned that a parent had a gun and might go to the school. The parent did not, but the school still went through the emergency measures.
Teachers lock their doors, Mullett said. It's a simple and effective policy, he said. Law enforcement officials also go to schools when they are put on lockdown, and school doors are supposed to be locked during the day.
It's not foolproof, Mullett said.
"For the most part, doors are locked," Mullett said. "It's not easy to get into a school, although there are times when it appears quite easy."
Practicing the drills today could make students more afraid to be at school, though, Mullett said.
"You certainly don't want to extend that notion that the kids need to be more frightened, or more afraid," Mullett said. "You might introduce that notion of maybe we're not as safe as we are, by practicing those things."
The week before holiday break is always different. There's a different flavor to the way students and teachers act, Mullett said, creating an atmosphere that's out of the ordinary.
Additionally, many students are going through their own challenges. The death of a family member or money problems can burden a student emotionally. An event like Friday's shooting can elicit the same emotional response, which could make students re-experience whatever they felt during their own event, Mullett said.
Teachers, counselors, administrators and parents need to watch students closely in the coming days. They need to be available to talk with their children and ready for any type of response, Mullett said.
"Parents may find that their kids are not responding at all. They may feel some sadness," Mullett said. "Some may feel angry, angry that we or the school or the adults there couldn't keep the (children) safe."
The responses are common, Mullett said. He said it's important for teachers and parents to continually assure students they are safe at school.
Sunday afternoon, Mullett didn't know exactly what the school system would do in response to the shooting. He said he thought some classrooms might write letters or send gifts to Newtown.