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Area schools ‘heighten awareness’ after Conn. tragedy

Some have police presence, closed campus
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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What happens in a lockdown?

Kelly Loveall, administrative assistant at E.V. Cain Charter Middle School, broke down some of the key points of what goes on during its school lockdown, based on national emergency response guidelines.

Ideally, a call is made over the P.A. telling students, wherever they are, to get inside the closest classroom, and teachers lock the door until law enforcement unlocks it.

All blinds are closed, students stay low and away from windows. Staff in the office calls classrooms and asks for a “red card” or a “green card,” red indicating a problem – either a missing child or extra child inside the room.

If a child gets locked out, they are instructed to hide in a bathroom stall and stand on the toilet seat, so their feet are not visible from outside.

Notes from staff are compared to account for students in all the classrooms, including matching up missing students that had been in a different classroom.

-- Jon Schultz

 

When Stacey Hopkinson learned of the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting that killed 27 people Friday, including 20 children, she had been at her Newcastle home, her 9-year-old twins at Skyridge Elementary School in Auburn.

“I wanted to rush up there and get them and not bring them back. I wanted to home school them,” Hopkinson said Monday, able to laugh now about her initial reaction, even though at the time it was “very hard” to endure. “It was just very terrifying. It scares me because I am a worrywart anyways. I walk them in and I walk them out every day. They don’t ride buses. So it’s just scary. It’s just very sad.”

On Monday, Auburn elementary administrators worked hard to ensure students and their parents knew their schools were safe.

The Auburn Union School District went into a phase of “heightened awareness” with its campus security, ensuring all visitors check in, necessary gates are locked and increasing visibility of administrators, said Michele Schuetz, district superintendent.

“We go on break Wednesday afternoon, so until we go on break we will continue that just to be aware,” Schuetz said. “You never think there’s going to be copy cats out there, but we just want to make sure we are doing our due diligences to make sure our campuses are safe.”

During the weekend, Skyridge Principal Jennifer Lewandowski said she heard many stories from parents similar to Hopkinson’s of wanting to drop everything, go to their children’s school and sweep them into the comfort of their arms.

“Luckily, we didn’t have a lot of that,” actually happen, Lewandowski said. “Because I think that might have caused a little bit of ‘What’s going on here?’ with the kids.”

Auburn Elementary School and Skyridge both reported having a police officer present during the school day to help mitigate concerns, and administrators at all the district’s schools were asked to be more alert and monitor the halls, as well.

Auburn Elementary closed its campus Friday and it will remain that way until break begins Wednesday, forcing people to enter through a door near the office, making it easier to monitor all who come and go, Principal Sam Schug said.

That also comes with a push to be increasingly stringent on making visitors sign in, a policy that sometimes can be difficult to enforce, Schug said.

Both Schug and Lewandowski said they had reviewed their safety plans Monday with the school resource officer.

Hopkinson said she would be in favor of heightening school security, though she’s unsure of how that could be accomplished.

“You can walk in and out of this place pretty easy, and it scares me even though we do live in a really nice community,” she said of Skyridge’s campus. “I don’t know what else they could do. We can’t be afraid our whole lives for this.”

Administrators from Auburn Elementary and Skyridge decided against having staff formally discuss the shooting with students, while E.V. Cain Charter Middle School Principal Randy Ittner said during the morning P.A. announcement he told students, “Because of the tragedy that happened Friday we will be going over the lockdown procedures to make sure we’re safe in school.”

Ittner told teachers to keep the discussion “in perspective” and not go “too in depth” with what happened.

At Auburn Elementary and Skyridge, administrators instructed teachers to answer questions as best they could if students raised the issue. Lewandowski, who has a kindergartener and fifth-grader at Skyridge, said although it had been a topic of discussion among older children, the school’s youngest haven’t been asking about it.

“I had a call from a fifth-grade parent who wanted nothing to be said in school. She wanted to have that conversation at home,” said Lewandowski, adding she had given staff literature on how to talk to children of different ages on tough issues. “So I think to do something schoolwide may not be the best idea, because people know the maturity level of their students and how to explain things.”

Skyridge and E.V. Cain reported having their last lockdown drill in October. Auburn Elementary had a “shelter in place” drill on Dec. 6, Schug said.

Coincidentally, Amanda Rogers, community service officer with Placer County Sheriff’s Office, wrapped up the two-day Safety Awareness For Elementary presentation Monday at Auburn Elementary, he said. When Rogers talked to fourth graders, the Shady Hook shootings “came up a little bit,” in second grade she talked about safety, and in kindergarten it wasn’t part of the discussion, Schug said.

Hopkinson said her children heard about it on television.

“I just kind of explained what happened and said there was some evil and it was just really heartbreaking, and I didn’t have much to say to them,” she said. “They didn’t ask a lot of questions, and I don’t know why, but they just didn’t, so I just didn’t go there.”

Like many parents across the country, she held them closer Friday night.

“They slept in our bed. We had four in our bed, it wasn’t fun,” Hopkinson said. “You hold them a little tighter, and it just breaks your heart. These people lost their babies, and it’s just not right.”

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews