Niagara Gazette — Niagara-Wheatfield district personnel want parents and children to understand their school buildings are safe.
Interim Superintendent James Knowles said his five building principals and staff at each school have been ran security drills over the course of three days this past week, with an emphasis on drilling protocols and procedures into the minds of the adults.
Local state troopers , he said, added a sense of urgency to the process and helped gauge how effective the district’s plans are.
“We were fortunate enough to have the state troopers at our schools for the last three days running drills and helping us find out what we can be doing better,” Knowles said. “At the end, our staff was actually tested. The troopers went to the doors and said ‘This is the police, open the door.’ And the teachers didn’t, which is what they should do.”
The security drills were brought about in response to the recent mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., which left 26 dead – including 20 young children – at the school. Knowles said his buildings practiced both lockout – where the building is operating normally while no outsiders are allowed in – and lockdown – where students and teachers move away from doors and access points to avoid detection – procedures.
Following the shooting, reports came out about how teachers at the school quickly barricaded themselves away from the shooter or kept children safe by hiding them in closets and cubbies, some at their own peril. It’s those responses Knowles has said he’d like to see become second nature.
Though the district routinely practices its response, some in the community wondered if once per year is enough to ensure the proper response if a situation were to develop.
“We know you can’t guarantee 100 percent safety in schools,” said Darren Snead, a concerned grandparent of an elementary school student at Colonial Village Elementary. “I hear annual drills, which makes me think of once per year. Maybe you should think about making it more than an annual thing. I know next month, the children are going to forget all of this.”
The motive behind the shooting remains officially unknown, though some reports speculated the shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, was upset with his mother possibly because she was investigating having him committed to a mental health facility.
In a statement read aloud by Niagara-Wheatfield School Board President Steve Sabo, he asked parents, teachers, students and community members to turn to compassion instead of anger and resentment as they handle life’s troubles, whether they be in the school or the home, the job or a public place.
“Acts of this (shooting’s) magnitude are thankfully rare,” he said. “But acts of aggression and bullying or anger are common in today’s society. As we head into the final two days of school before the holidays, I ask that you genuinely give the gift of compassion as you go about your days.”