Updated 9:30 a.m. Dec. 15
As the tragic events in Newtown, Ct., unfold Friday, local school officials are trying to make sense of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Anybody’s that’s been a parent, been a teacher, been associated with schools, you can’t imagine how the families feel in Connecticut,” Whitnall Superintendent Dr. Lowell Holtz said. “Our heart and our prayers go out to them.
“No one can believe that someone would have this unimaginable evil inside of them to do this. It’s hard to fathom for anybody.”
Holtz said that every since the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, and even before, school districts across the country have become more and more judicious when it comes to who they let inside their schools.
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He said all Whitnall schools are secured in a similar fashion. Once all students are in the school, there is only one way into the district’s high school, middle school and two elementary schools, Holtz said.
He said visitors have to ring a buzzer at the front door and are then viewed on video cameras before let into the building. They are then directed to the school secretary’s office, where they must sign in.
“You do prevention to try to create obstacles to discourage people from selecting a school,” Holtz said. “Is it the greatest thing in the world? No. There’s no metal detector, and even if there was, if that’s the kind of person coming in the door, I don’t want to depress people, but what is the secretary or a metal detector going to do?”
So, do schools need an armed guard at the front door?
“We do everything that we can do,” Holtz said. “Everybody is aware of the procedures were supposed to follow. Even if we had an armed police officer, that might not prevent it. They said the guy came in with a bullet-proof vest and assault rifles; it would be hard to stop."
Holtz said all of the students in the district participate in school lockdown drills, similar to fire drills, throughout the course of the year. And should a tragic event like the one that happened in Connecticut on Friday happen at a Whitnall school, Holtz said the district is capable of sending out mass messages through emails and phone calls.
“Every phone number we have on file can get the message,” Holtz said. “In an emergency like this, we’d tell them what’s going on, when we’ll update the information and give them directions on where to go.
“Every parent is going to be scared and nervous after something like this, just like I was when my kid went to a midnight showing of The Hobbit last night. But you have to be proactive, and the schools are as safe as they can be.”
Greenfield: safety of students top concern
Greenfield Superintendent Conrad Farner said the district is diligent in creating safe, secure environments and monitoring those environments every day.
"While the tragedy in Connecticut impacts us all at various emotional, spiritual and intellectual levels, it has little impact on the district's practices," Farner said. "We are as prepared as we can be every day.
"We have safety/crisis plans in place, we do regular drills, we have staff trained in safety/security/crisis measures. We monitor visitors to our schools. We have participated in a number of state and local safety/crisis initiatives. We continually look at our practices, procedures and facilities and consider ideas and options to stay as safe and secure as we can be."
Farner said the safety of students is the district's top priority, and that the district constantly deals "with the struggle of having schools that are safe and secure, but at the same time we want to be warm, inviting, welcoming places for students, staff, parents and community/citizen partners."
President Barack Obama said Friday afternoon that he had spoken to Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy and said the federal government would "offer every single resource that he needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims, counsel their families."
In his remarks, Obama also referenced the August mass shooting at an temple in Oak Creek when he said:
"As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
Friday afternoon State Superintendent Tony Evers said his heart and prayers go out to the victims of the tragic shooting and their families.
"Also in my heart and prayers are all the students, parents, and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut," Evers said in a statement. "For them and for the whole community of Newtown, I offer our support as they cope with the aftermath of this senseless act of violence. Their lives and their community have been changed forever.
“These will be difficult times for parents and school children everywhere, including in Wisconsin. We must support and care for our children as they hear about this tragedy and try to understand that which is incomprehensible and senseless.”