The Lake Washington and Issaquah School Districts are sending a message to parents in response to the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school Friday morning, expressing its sorrow and providing tips for helping children deal with the tragedy.
“Oh it’s a sad day,” said Kathryn Reith, LWSD district spokeswoman. “We have an email going out to parents I have worked on with the superintendent (Dr. Traci Pierce).”
In a message to Issaquah School District families, Superintendent Dr. Steve Rasmussen told families that though the district has prepared extensively for any possible emergencies, "the random nature of a sudden mass shooting can make us feel very vulnerable, particularly when innocent, vulnerable children are targeted."
Twenty-seven people were killed—the majority of them children between the ages of 5 and 10—at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. The violence is the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
Reith said schools are perceived as a safe place for kids and by kids, and some parents might also have questions, about things such as whether the district has contingency plans.
“We do think about these possibilities and have plans in place,” Reith said. “These situations remind us that we can never review enough and plan enough. We’re also encouraging our schools to reach out to parents.”
She said that each of the last several years the district has worked on emergency preparedness. For example, in October it worked on earthquake drills. “The focus was on reuniting children with parents,” Reith said.
In the case of the shootings, Reith said school officials are concerned that children might be upset and confused, since most do consider school a safe place.
“We’re talking a little about what parents can watch for,” she said “Kids might ask a lot of questions, they might act a little overly nice, or they might become withdrawn or have bad dreams.”
Youth Eastside Services, the longtime service organization in Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond that provides provides mental health and crisis counseling for young people, also on Friday offered tips for parents. See that story by clicking here.
Here is the full message from Lake Washington District Supt. Pierce:
You may have heard the terrible news of an elementary school shooting in Connecticut that took the lives of many people, including students. This news is shocking to all of us, especially happening at an elementary school. This violence against innocent children is almost inconceivable. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the students, families and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary due to this horrible tragedy and senseless loss of life. As colleagues and educational professionals, the safety of our students and school communities is always at the forefront of our efforts.
As a district, it hits home to our staff members. We do think about these kinds of possibilities and in fact, we prepare for them. Our schools have crisis response plans in place that address a full range of emergency situations. We have lockdown procedures that we practice, as a way to keep intruders from getting into classrooms and other parts of the school. We have communications tools, both for alerting police of a situation and alerting parents to what has happened and where to go to be reunited with their children. We do drills to prepare for emergencies, whether natural or man-made. Most recently, as a district we practiced our parent reunification procedures in October.
We will encourage our schools to review crisis plans in light of this tragedy as well as reinforce school security and campus visitor procedures. As part of this effort, we will also reach out to our families and school communities to build greater awareness and knowledge regarding these plans.
Your student(s) may hear this news in some way, whether from television, radio, adults or even their friends. Because it took place in an elementary school, a place students see as safe and welcoming, it may be very disturbing to them. Here are a few suggestions for helping to make students feel safe:
* Turn off or monitor the television. Endless news programs are likely to heighten anxiety, and young children cannot distinguish between images on television and their personal reality.
* Maintain a normal routine.
* Stick to facts. Answer questions factually.
*Remember to filter what you say to a child. Avoid graphic details.
* Remain calm and reassuring. Children take their cues from their parents and adults.
* Be optimistic.
* Be a good listener and observer. Pay attention to changes in behavior.
* Take care of yourself. You are better able to help your students if you are coping well. If you are anxious or upset, your students are more likely to be so as well.
We don’t always know how a student will be affected in a crisis, but you know your child the best of anyone. Be prepared for your child to do any of the following:
• Claim not to be affected
• Ask a lot of questions
• Act agitated and angry
• Try abnormally hard to be good
• Have frightful dreams
We encourage you to be sensitive with your child and to call us if we can help you in any way. Thank you for your support of our young people.
Dr. Traci Pierce
Here is the full message from the Issaquah School District:
On behalf of the Issaquah School District, our hearts go out to community of Newtown, Connecticut, and especially to the staff, students and families of Sandy Hook Elementary School. It’s difficult to comprehend the motivation for the horrific attack that took place this morning.
We have worked hard over the past few years to develop our building emergency preparedness plans. We have practiced and trained to respond with confidence. Our plans have been developed in coordination with our local police and fire departments, the county’s First Responder system and the state department of Emergency Management. In short, we have prepared extensively.
Nevertheless, the random nature of a sudden mass shooting can make us feel very vulnerable, particularly when innocent, vulnerable children are targeted. As we try to cope with this reality, we can and must help our children cope.
Our school counselors remind us that as caring adults, we can make the difference between being overwhelmed by circumstances we cannot control and developing critical life-long emotional and coping skills.
Here are a few suggestions for helping to make students feel safe:
- Turn off or monitor the television. Endless news programs are likely to heighten anxiety, and young children cannot distinguish between images on television and their personal reality.
- Maintain a normal routine.
- Stick to facts. Answer questions factually.
- Remember to filter what you say to a child. Avoid graphic details.
- Remain calm and reassuring. Children take their cues from their parents and adults.
- Be optimistic.
- Be a good listener and observer. Pay attention to changes in behavior.
- Take care of yourself. You are better able to help your students if you are coping well. If you are anxious or upset, your students are more likely to be so as well.
The safety of our students and staff is our highest priority. It takes parents, students, staff and community working together to keep our schools safe places to learn. If you ever have information about suspicious, illegal or unsafe activity at school, please contact your school or call the district office at (425) 837-7000.
Our school counselors and principals will be highly visible in the schools today and next week. If you have concerns about your child and would like the counselor to speak with him or her in private, please contact your child’s school office.
Dr. Steve Rasmussen