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Safety in the wake of tragedy

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By Catherine Hunter –

In the wake of a school tragedy, as the nation asks how this could happen, parents are left with questions of what to tell their children and whether their children are safe.

To help Buncombe County Schools (BCS) parents, teachers and students better deal with this tragedy, BCS provided counselors on Monday, December 17 for BCS elementary schools. They have also posted information on the BCS web site regarding how to talk with children about such an event and information detailing the BCS Safe Schools Plan.

BCS School Superintendent Tony Baldwin said he was shocked and disturbed by the terrible tragedy.

“Even if they don’t bring it up, children can be concerned about their own safety,” Baldwin said in a recorded message for parents and teachers. “I hope you will take a moment to read this resource and have a conversation with your students.”

Drawing on information from the TLC Institute, the BCS posting states it is especially important for young people to talk about a tragedy when the victims are children. According to the TLC Institute, it is important for adults to acknowledge what happened along with potential fears that it could happen in the child’s school. Asking the child questions about what their friends and teachers are saying helps get the child talking about their own fears and feelings.

The site also recommends not giving too many answers too quickly. A short, simple acknowledgement of what they are saying is best. Using concrete terms and speaking honestly is important as well.

“Call death, ‘death,’” recommends the site. “How much detail you give is up to your judgment, but any time you are not honest, you risk losing their [the child’s] trust later.”

In addition the information suggests that regressive behavior following such a tragedy is common in children. Children might be more clingy than usual or might be less responsible. Experts suggest parents let the child know the parents are available and speak in hopeful positive tones.

“While no school can prevent every possible incident all of our schools have a Safe Schools Plan,” said Baldwin.

BCS Communications Director Jan Blunt said they had just had a safety meeting at the central office a week before the Connecticut tragedy.

“A couple of years ago we received a grant from the Department of Homeland Security to implement a Safe School Plan,” said Blunt.

She explained that the Safe Schools Plan includes flip charts in every classroom that detail procedures in case of danger and videos outlining crisis preparation, a full scale evacuation plan and what parents can do in the case of a crisis. Blunt said the grant helped them increase visibility and communication, which are the most important aspects of keeping schools safe.

One of the key areas BCS staff are discussing is how to increase security in some of the older buildings such as the Community High School where the office is down the hall and around the corner from the entrance.

“Even with security guards, people can still get in [into the schools],” Blunt said as she added there was not enough money to put security guards in every school. “We need to put resources where they are most needed. We’re talking about security and technological security.”

As they look at other areas to increase security, BCS staff are also putting extra efforts into recognizing potential threats and problems such as violent writing or drawings.

“It’s more likely there would be an incident at a high school than an elementary school,” Blunt said.

“Safety is the utmost priority at BCS schools,” said Baldwin. “Personnel know and practice regularly the steps to take in a crisis.”

More information regarding the Safe Schools Plan and talking with children in time of tragedy can be found on the BCS district web site at www.buncombe.k12.nc.us.

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