Last night, we went to sleep thinking about yet another community that met with the horror of a school shooting. We are again seeing children running in terror from a place that, next to their own homes, should be the safest place they go. The community and families of Parkland, Florida and around the country are in our collective thoughts as they deal with the trauma and impact school shootings cause.
The District's top priority is the safety, security and well-being of all students and staff. LMSD administrators have been working with county authorities on emergency safety simulations and reinforcing our preparations in recent years. The District realizes that despite all of the steps taken, we are not immune and must all remain vigilant.
The information below is an update to our general safety and security procedures, as well as resources on ways to address these tragedies with children. The District is available to support families that may have been impacted emotionally through our school counselors, psychologists, and other professional staff. These resources can also be found on the District's website (http://www.lmsd.org/departments/counseling/crisis).
General Safety and Security
- The District maintains a variety of active security measures at all times, including locked exterior doors, mandatory check-in procedures at school entrances, video surveillance, alarms and campus security personnel. In recent years, the District has invested in enhancing security at school building entrances, adding fencing and gates, operationalizing several hundred new cameras, and improving locking devices to classroom doors.
- A comprehensive emergency operations plan guides our response to emergency situations at the District and school level. Staff are trained to implement emergency procedures and participate in practice drills throughout the year. Students receive training as well, including participation lockdown drills during the year.
- All classrooms have a quick-reference, crisis response guide that covers situations ranging from kidnapping and assaults to medical emergencies and mass casualties.
- The District and local law enforcement have a very strong partnership. Law enforcement personnel regularly participate in the review of our security and emergency procedures. Our emergency operations plan is reviewed annually and, this year, the District has worked closely with the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety and Steve Beck, Montgomery County's School Safety Coordinator to review our current emergency operations plan.
Speaking with Your Child
The American Psychological Association (APA) and National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) provides a number of recommendations on handling crises with your children. The following is valuable information from the APA and NASP websites:
Talk to your children
Psychologists who work in the area of trauma and recovery advise parents to use the troubling news of school shootings as an opportunity to talk and listen to their children. It is important, say these psychologists, to be honest about what has happened. Parents are encouraged to acknowledge to children that bad things do happen, but also reassure them with the information that many people are working to keep them safe, including their parents, teachers, and local police.
Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
- Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
- Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.
- Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
Monitor exposure to news coverage
Parents should also monitor how much exposure a child has to news reports of traumatic events, including these recent school shootings. Research has shown that some young children believe that the events are reoccurring each time they see a television replay of the news footage. This includes monitoring social media footage which can contain graphic and disturbing images and video.
Know the warning signs
Most children are quite resilient and will return to their normal activities and personality relatively quickly, but parents should be alert to any signs of anxiety that might suggest that a child or teenager might need more assistance. Such indicators could be a change in the child's school performance, changes in relationships with peers and teachers, excessive worry, school refusal, sleeplessness, nightmares, headaches or stomachaches, or loss of interest in activities that the child used to enjoy. Also remember that every child will respond to trauma differently. Some will have no ill effects; others may suffer an immediate and acute effect. Still others may not show signs of stress until sometime after the event.
For more information, visit the APA Help Center at www.apa.org/helpcenter and the NASP Resource Center at https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis. Our school counselors are also available to answer any questions and concerns you may have.
We are cognizant of your concerns and continue to take steps to insure the safety of students and staff. Please contact your school principal or your child's school counselor if you have any questions or would like additional information.
Talking To Children About Tragedies and Other News Events
National Association of School Psychologists
"Talking to Children about Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers"
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Disaster Distress Hotline - a 24 hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week resource that responds to people who need crisis counseling after experiencing a tragedy. The Helpline will provide confidential counseling, referrals and other needed support services. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.