W.Va. schools comfort students after tragedy
Ryan was never scared to go to school until Monday.
After learning of Friday's mass shooting in Connecticut, the 10-year-old fourth grader at Pinch Elementary School didn't want to leave his mother's side.
"He wanted to sleep with me," said Judy Carr, his mother. "If I would go outside and come back in, he was afraid; he thought I was gone."
Ryan has been doing well since enrolling at Pinch Elementary last year, but she was nervous to see how things would go Monday.
As she approached the school and prepared to drop him off, both mother and son could hear something coming from the school. They rolled down the vehicle's windows and realized it was Christmas music, floating from speakers outside the building.
"He got this big ol' smile on his face and said, 'Mom, I'm not afraid any more,' " Judy said. "And it just brought tears to my eyes."
She saw Principal Elizabeth Moore standing outside the building welcoming children. And she felt better.
Students across the county found similar scenes when they arrived at school Monday.
(The Mommyhood: What will it take to make you feel safe dropping your kids off at school?)
In her three years as principal at Albans Elementary School in St. Albans, Bobbie Lewis always has greeted her students before the start of classes. On Monday several parents came up and hugged her, thanking her for being there for their children. Others emailed similar statements.
A city police officer comes to the school every morning during drop-off times, and several parents are deputies with the county sheriff's department. One of those deputies came by Monday morning to stand with Lewis and greet students. She didn't ask him to do so, but she thought it went a long way to reassure students and parents.
"The bottom line is just that the kids are safe; we want the parents to know the kids, they trust us," Lewis said. "We want them to know that we take our jobs of kids' safety very seriously."
No parents gave Mike Arbogast, South Charleston High School principal, any hugs Monday morning. But he thought it was necessary to make an announcement over the school loudspeaker about the tragedy.
He asked students to keep those affected by the shootings in their thoughts and to realize that it's up to everyone at a school to make it a safe environment. If there's someone who doesn't belong in the school or a student sees something they think is strange, they should tell someone, Arbogast said during his announcement.
Several students came up to him after he spoke. They thanked him and told him they needed to hear what he said.
"I just want to make sure students know they're safe in our building," Arbogast said.
School officials at the county level and local law enforcement also addressed school safety Monday. Sgt. Bobby Eggleton, the Charleston Police Department's assistant chief of detectives, announced police officers would increase their patrols of city schools for the rest of this week.
Eggleton said police would visit all public and private schools in Charleston city limits. He said police do not believe schools are at risk but want to reassure parents and school staff.
"We're not worried about anything, to be honest with you," he said. "We're doing this just to give an extra sense of security to the public."
Eggleton also asked members of the public to notify police if they see anything suspicious.
"We're stretched out there, so if they call and we have extra information before we get there, it's not going to hurt," he said.
Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring said the police department approached the school system about providing officers this week. Students leave for holiday break on Thursday, so Duerring thought officers would remain in schools until the end of the week.
The school system received calls from concerned parents over the weekend. He thought the extra police would help everyone, including teachers and other school personnel, feel a little safer.
Every year school personnel practice emergency response plans, Duerring said. In light of the shooting, safety director Bev Jarrett said she and other county administrators are reviewing those procedures.
Each school is supposed to lock its doors during the day. Jarrett said each school is also supposed to have a "lockdown button." In an emergency the principal can push a button that automatically locks the building's front doors.
She said today she plans to review the safety features of each building with Chuck Wilson, director of the facilities department. She also wants to make sure all emergency personnel are able to access a school in case there is a problem.
Arbogast, Lewis, Duerring and Jarrett each said school personnel are well trained to deal with emergency situations. The added precautions and focus this week will build on a strong foundation, Jarrett said.
Staff Writer Zack Harold contributed to this report.