“We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in a quiet town full of good and decent people, that could be any town in America… All across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight.”
Those were remarks offered by President Barack Obama during a prayer vigil Sunday night for victims of Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Indeed, the nation has mourned together following this tragic event caused by a 20-year-old man who reportedly forced his way into the school and opened fire after first killing his mother at home.
“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” President Obama said, adding this is the fourth time since he’s taken office that a community has been torn apart by mass shootings. “I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.”
While this incident has sparked lively debate on matters ranging from gun control and mental health to parenting and even violent video games, the strongest immediate focus locally has been on keeping children safe in the schools.
In Monroe and Randolph counties, new Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis assured students, parents and all the communities that education officials have continuously focused on school safety and have “renewed the vigor” in addressing school crisis planning and prevention.
Annually, Davis said schools review crisis plans, procedures, and protocols with first responders to assure collaborative practices with all emergency agencies. Additional safety protocols, such as limited entrances, video surveillance and monitored entries, are common practices in the schools served by his regional office.
“This recent tragedy is an- other reminder that our efforts have not been in vain, and that the safety of our children — from the moment they step on the bus to the time they return home — is not negotiable,” Davis said.
Waterloo Superintendent of Schools Jim Helton said words cannot express his district’s sympathy for the victims and families of Sandy Hook.
Regarding school safety, Helton said this latest tragedy “has given pause to reassess and evaluate again.”
First responders are involved in the district’s planning, Helton said, and are guides throughout implementation.
“We want to make sure that our school safety measures are ongoing,” he said.
Waterloo Police Chief Jim Trantham said during Monday’s Waterloo City Council meeting that his department is working with the schools to review current security plans and see where, if any, changes can be made.
Five WPD officers have completed “active shooter” training, he said, and they have mutual aid agreements with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and Columbia Police Department.
An “active shooter” trained officer is trained to confront the shooter immediately in- stead of waiting for back- up. Some studies have concluded that the faster a shooter is confronted, the higher probability exists that an event is resolved with minimal loss of life.
In Columbia, school superintendent Dr. Gina Segobiano said her district is lucky to have a proactive police department that partners with it to ensure optimal safety.
“The police department annually conducts intruder drills — which would have been the case for the Sandy Hook shooting,” she explained. “In addition, our surveillance cameras that cover entrances, parking lots, etc., are streamlined to the police department so dispatchers have a first-hand look at traffic flow and foot traffic on school grounds.”
Police also have access to the radio lines for bus transportation, Segobiano said.
Each school building has controlled access points where guests must be admitted via door lock controls during the school day. Each classroom also has telephone access, Segobiano said, which could be used for students or staff to contact the office or call 9-1-1 if needed.
Segobiano reported a “smooth arrival” on Monday as students returned to class following Friday’s shooting.
“I credit our parents for using their discretion when talking to their children about this tragedy,” she said.
Valmeyer School Superintendent Eric Frankford agreed with the other local superintendents in saying there’s been a renewed focus on safety.
“After a tragic event such as the one in Newtown, we will attempt to be as proactive as possible by taking a second look at crisis preparedness and make necessary adjustments to our policies and procedures,” he said.
During a prayer service held Friday in Waterloo fol- lowing the tragedy, Fr. Osang Idagbo of Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church said: “Times like these often leave more questions than answers.”
He urged the community to hug their loved ones and pray for those in need.
On Tuesday, Gibault Catholic High School held a “Dress in Green Day” fundraiser to show support for those involved in the tragedy. Money raised will be sent to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.