Responding to a School Crisis
Whenever a tragic event occurs in a school, the collective education family throughout our nation grieves for our counterparts. We want to assure our families that our school has an updated school safety plan that has been created/reviewed in collaboration with local law enforcement and with input from the Indiana School Safety Specialists Academy.
The members of our staff have been trained on the specifics of this plan, and we conduct periodic drills to ensure that everyone knows their role during a crisis. Our school also has specific protocol for entry to our schools, and we appreciate the understanding of our parents as we enforce these protocols for the safety of our children. The safety of our students remains our highest priority. Please be aware that our safety plan is exempted from public disclosure per Indiana Code 5-14-3-4. We will not disclose any details of the plan that would compromise the integrity of the plan itself.
Every school conducts Code Red drills, which are hide/shelter-in-place drills, each semester. A full-scale Code Red (in this instance, an active shooter) drill was enacted in May of 2012 with assistance from local emergency responders. Parents are welcome to see the Fox 59 coverage of the event to gain an idea of the many steps we have taken to plan for the unthinkable and hopefully to help prevent such an occurence in our community. Similar full-scale drills have been held, including the 2011 Full-Scale Drill at Waverly Elementary.
The support of our parents and families is extremely important at times such as this. Please review these tips from the National Association of School Psychologists about what parents can do to help our children:
1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately. (Photo shows students with their Snowflake for Sandy Hook - a project students copmleted so they could send something tot he students in Newtown, CT).
2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient. Children and youth do not always talk
about their feelings readily.
3. 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.
• 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 communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.
5. Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.
6. Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.
7. Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
The following resources are designed to help parents, teachers and community members respond to a difficult situation and provide tools for working with our children through the crisis aftermath.
The National Association of School Psychologists provides many useful resources for various audiences.
Indiana Department of Education School Crisis Recovery Page: gives several helpful links with guidance on restoring the teaching and learning environment after a crisis.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration operates a Disaster Distress Hotline that offers free, multilingual crisis support 24 hours a day at 1-800-985-5990 for anyone experiencing psychological distress as a result of this tragedy, along with additional downloadable information
Talking with Kids about News - this guide from PBS gives parents tips for discussing upsetting situations with their children.