Reporter and mother searches for answers in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting tragedy
By Angela Rogalski, senior print journalism major, Meek School of Journalism and New Media
As I watched the horror unfold on the news today in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I had to physically restrain myself from going to Lafayette and picking up my own daughter, as I’m sure every parent in the country had to do as well.
Just how safe are our own kids in our schools here in Lafayette County? It was a question that had to be answered, or at the very least approached. We can all hope for the best and pray that something like what happened at Sandy Hook never happens in Oxford or Lafayette schools, but we’re wearing blinders or just being complacent and naïve if we truly rely on that slim hope. Our children’s lives are more valuable than that.
So I decided to go to the sources for answers.
Dr. Adam Pugh, superintendent of Lafayette County Schools, said that the safety of our children was the number one priority in the measures that the county schools exact to protect them.
“I’m a parent too, so when I heard what had happened in Connecticut, my thoughts and prayers went out to the people of the community and the families,” Pugh said. “It was a terrible tragedy. And while nothing is foolproof, what we do at Lafayette is a good system.”
Pugh said that all doors in the elementary school stay locked, except for the front door. Office personnel must see the ID’s of all people checking out students and that they must be on the child’s check-out list.
“We also have three officers who are divided up: one is stationed at the high school, one at the middle school, and one that walks between the upper and the lower elementary schools,” Pugh said.
I asked him about metal detectors and his response was that while yes, metal detectors would let you know if someone was carrying a weapon, you would have to have someone present at all times at the detector, and while that might not be a problem, what if that person was shot?
Good question. So, if metal detectors aren’t the answer, what is? What else can we do to better protect our children?
“There’s always room for improvement,” Pugh said. “And we’re always evaluating whether or not we’re doing all we can.”
Pugh said several years back they had had a safety expert to come to Lafayette and make recommendations, and he wouldn’t be opposed to doing it again.
“I’m open to any and all suggestions,” Pugh said, “anything to keep our children safe. Unfortunately, sometimes when you have someone that’s sick and who is determined to take a life, you can’t stop them.”
While I hear the truth in Dr. Pugh’s statement, the parent in me refuses to accept that. Of course, the reporter in me knows that he’s right. Just look at recent incidents: the shootings in the theater in Colorado, the mall tragedy in Oregon; and while I know murders such as these happen all the time, I still believe making sure our schoolchildren are as safe as possible is the right thing to do.
Asking questions of our officials and the safety methods they utilize is the right thing to do.
Brian Harvey, superintendent of Oxford Schools, said that when he heard the reports coming out of Connecticut, he was horrified.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the people in Connecticut,” Harvey said. “It was just a tragedy, and I’m praying for everyone involved.”
Harvey said that in the Oxford school district, they implement a visitor management system and require ID checks, and they also have a registry log in place for all visitors.
“If you’re not supposed to be there, we know it,” Harvey said. “And we do safety plan updates twice a year. In fact, we have one coming up on Monday.”
Harvey also said that we need to be more aware of our surroundings and the people in those surroundings.
“We need to get off our phones and know what’s going on around us,” he said. “We need to recognize potential problems and be more in tune to the people we come into contact with.”
Be More Attuned to Risks
Like Pugh, Harvey feels that there is nothing that is foolproof, but he said that we can reduce the risk by becoming more attuned to those risks.
“We also have four school resource officers on duty at all times,” Harvey said. “Two are at the high school, one at the middle school and one at our alternative school. And we have three school safety officers at our elementary schools.”
And while they have cameras at the high schools, Harvey said there are none at the elementary schools.
“But actually cameras deter unruly behavior and help identify the student who painted their locker,” he said. “I’m not sure how much crime they deter.”
Harvey’s comments were similar to what Lafayette’s principal, Bonnie Owen, told me.
“Wal-Mart has cameras,” she said. “But they still have crime.”
But Owen feels that what Lafayette does do helps.
“We have drills constantly,” she said. “Enacting different scenarios and practicing our safety measures. Staying alert is very important.”
Owen also agreed that metal detectors weren’t the answer.
“What happens when we take the children outside on the playground,” she said. “What then? They can’t stay inside all of the time.”
Jennifer Yancy is the co-president of Lafayette Elementary School’s PTO. Yancy said that she and her husband were discussing the safety measures of the school at lunch.
“The horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook made us start looking at our own children’s school safety,” Yancy said.
Yancy said they began to discuss methods that weren’t being used at Lafayette.
“Keypad entry and video cameras,” Yancy said, “are two things we discussed. We don’t know the answer, but we do want to be as prepared as we can and close as many loopholes as possible.”
Yancy said that the employees at her antique store have a key fob which has a panic alarm on it and sends an instant message to the police.
“It’s a thought for office personnel and teachers,” Yancy said.
She’s considering bringing the safety issue up at the next PTO meeting.
Dr. Ed Meek has been concerned with school safety for many years, since his grandson was a student at Della Davidson Elementary.
“I would pick him up or drop him off, and I would see one policeman there,” Meek said. “And he was doing everything but guarding the doors.”
Meek said that he approached Buddy Chain, who was chairman of the board at the time, about the issue.
“I told Buddy that security measures had to be better at our schools,” Meek said. “I even offered leading the fundraising drive if it was a matter of money. We could have more training programs or cameras. There is nothing more valuable than our children’s lives.”
As I sit here, writing and recalling all the measures that each school provides for our children in an effort to keep them safe, I feel no consolation. I just see the tear-streaked faces of those children left behind who have to deal with the emotional aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy. And imagine the emptiness and total desolation of the parents who lost their children. And I cry and know that nothing we’re doing is enough. Absolutely nothing can bring back those children or ours, if God forbid, this should happen in our town.
There has to be more.
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