Local schools respond to school shooting

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LINWOOD – There may be no manual for dealing with school shootings, and few school districts if any have ever sat down and had a meeting about how to speak with students and their parents about how to help them feel safe after a massacre. But after the massacre Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, that is exactly what districts across the country are trying to do.

Northfield School District Superintendent Janice Fipp and Linwood and Mainland Regional Superintendent Tom Baruffi said they were looking for the discussion to begin at home.

Fipp said that while Northfield has long been a proponent of practice drills, the job each district has ahead of them is to let children know they are in a safe and loving environment and that their teachers and administrators will do everything they can to keep their school safe.

She sent a letter to all district families encouraging the discussion to begin at home, offering talking points for parents to help them begin to work through the layers of issues that children may have after the shooting.

Fipp told parents that she would utilize the district’s global phone network to get any information directly to them, and said the communication pipeline between home and the school district is always open. 

Baruffi sent the same letter to the parents in his two school districts. He said that while the districts practice security drills each month and teachers are asked to share feedback on the procedures, an incident like the one in Newtown puts a strain on everyone.

“Our counselors are available for any child who needs them. Our teachers know to look out for any children who are showing signs of needing special attention,” he said.

“As noted in the letter to parents, we believe it is important for parents to decide what they would or would not like to share with their children. A couple of parents at the elementary level even informed us that they hoped we would not be discussing the incident, and we certainly respect their position on that. That has been our philosophy with all incidents of this magnitude,” he said.

Jeff Miller, superintendent of the Somers Point School District, said the district already conducts monthly drills in its three schools, and administrators plan to work closely with the police department to tighten up security where it is needed.

“The safety of our children is our number one priority,” he said, and police will be increasing their presence in the district.

Mindy Shemtov, director of The Alcove Center for Grieving Children and their Families, on Tilton Road in Northfield. She deals with children working through their emotions following a death every day.

“We are telling parents who have reached out to us following the shooting on Friday, open the dialogue with your children; find out what they know because this is not something that you want them to hear from others,” Shemtov said Monday.

“What is most important now is listening and responding the best you can. Don’t make things up, but tell the children in your life that the adults around you and at school are trying very hard to make sure you are safe.”

Shemtov said that kids are intuitive, and that is why it is vital for parents to answer as best they can.

She said the death of a loved one causes a child to lose his or her innocence. Kids already dealing with a death have a remarkable level of maturity, she said.

“They know that bad things happen,” Shemtov said.

The Alcove has offered its services to Newtown, she said.

Shemtov said it is OK for parents to show emotion.

“We don’t want to fall apart in front of our children, but we are not rocks. We have emotions, and we are also our children’s role models, and they will be looking at how we deal with the many emotions that we are having following this horrible event.” 


Bill LeConey contributed to this story

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