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Gazette Premium Content Mood in Springs schools is calm in wake of shooting

CAROL MCGRAW Updated: December 17, 2012 at 12:00 am

Acting Superintendent David MacKenzie of Harrison School District 2 began making the rounds of his buildings at 6:30 a.m. Monday, letting principals know that support was available if they, their students or parents needed reassurances. He also reiterated safety measures.

In the wake of the Friday school shooting in Connecticut, school officials across the Pikes Peak region reported that the atmosphere was surprisingly calm and there were few anxious children. Officials also said they are re-examining their safety procedures and making sure equipment such as video cameras and door locks are in good working order.

“It went much better than expected. I was pleasantly surprised,” said Brian McRoberts, counselor at Sand Creek Elementary School, who was part of the D-2 effort.

He had spent the weekend reviewing  reports from the National Association of School Psychologists on how to support children in such cases.  “I sent copies to the staff.”

He said only two students at Sand Creek mentioned the Connecticut killings to teachers.

One third-grader wondered if she was safe at school. “We talked for a while, and I told her we had a lot of safety in place and that teachers were keeping an eye out always.”

He also helped a fourth-grader talk her way through some concerns.  “She was mostly wanted to express sorrow and sympathy for the deceased children and to be heard,” he said.

Liz Wiggins, an elementary school counselor at Mountain Vista Community School, a choice school in D-2, which has kindergarten through 8th-grade students, said, “For us it was business as usual.  We always look for someone overly emotional, but  there were none. A couple of 4th and 5th graders asked questions, but carried on after reassurances. For our kids, their world hadn’t shifted.”

The story was much the same in districts across El Paso County.

Devra Ashby, public information officer for Colorado Springs School District 11, said, “This incident has caused every school everywhere to take a second look and to have deep discussions. We started our discussion this morning.  We talked to all our principals.  

She added, “We are vigilant, but we want people to be even more aware and vigilant as to who they are buzzing in and what their business is.”

Ellicott School District 22 recently reviewed what to do if there was a “live shooter.”

After Friday’s tragedy they are re-examining every detail. For example, Ellicott is building a new middle school, and  Superintendent Patrick Cullen said that safety equipment is part of that. “But I want to review the plans with the architect, to make sure we have everything that we can in place.”

Parents, too were reminded of safety issues.

Some schools sent emails to families to reassure them and reiterate safety rules. One from the Academy for Advanced and Creative Learning, a District 11 charter school noted: “Please remember to stand in front of the camera at the front door or we will ask you to move where we can see you better. And don’t open the doors for someone you don’t know.”

Larrry Borland, chief of security for Academy School District 20, said that they began beefing up the school patrol presence at the schools on Friday, and will continue for the foreseeable future.

“We are examining everything, that there are no broken or missing equipment,” he said. They checked the video intercoms , two-way radios, and the panic alarms that feed into a service that automatically calls the police and other first responders. The district has armed guards in the schools. In the high schools, security officers are posted at the doors.

 “As would be expected we had a lot of nervous parents, but our kids and staff are holding up well,” he added.

Parents interviewed at various schools said their children were not overly upset.

 Maribel Durant, whose two children attend The Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy, located in Cheyenne Mountain School District 12, said her kids knew what happened in Connecticut, but were eager to go to school. “I told them it is okay here.” And she believes that it is. She expressed confidence in safety measures she has noticed. She often sees patrol cars come by the area and that there are locks on the doors.

“I mean you never know, but I do feel they are secure.”

Another mother of two children, Andrea Tankersley, echoed that sentiment  about Steele Elementary in D-11. “They have a buzzer system and everything. I feel they are safe.”

One mother wasn’t quite as assured. She didn’t want the name of her school mentioned or her name. ”I don’t want to draw attention to the school,” she said.

Ashby of D-11 said that the safety discussions won’t end. “We aren’t going to be dropping our guard months from now when it’s not at the front of our minds. We are going to keep it there.”

Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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