The following is a press release from the West Chester Area School District.
It is with an extremely heavy heart that I write this note to you after the tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut this morning that took the lives of at least 27. News reports indicate it is the worst elementary school shooting in our nation’s history.
Details are still unfolding and we won’t know for some time exactly what happened, or whether it could have been prevented. I want to assure you, however, that the West Chester Area School District will continue to enforce security measures and even re-evaluate our security (as we do on a regular basis) to make sure we are doing all that’s reasonably possible to keep our children safe.
The National Mental Health Association has a number of suggestions for how to talk to children about something so tragic and horrific, and these suggestions are listed at the end of this email. It is important to reassure children that the adults in their lives are doing everything they can to make their environment - school, home, and neighborhood - safe for them. And we want to reassure you that we are doing that in West Chester schools.
Our crisis counselors will be on hand in all of our schools next week and we encourage any students, staff, or parents who would like to talk to someone to please reach out to our schools for help.
As an educator and parent of two young children, an event like this shakes me to my core and I know it touches our entire community. Our school community will work diligently to help us all cope with this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are also with the families and community in Connecticut.
Dr. Jim Scanlon, Superintendent
Suggestions from the National Mental Health Association for helping a child cope with news of a school shooting (As a parent you will need to determine which guidelines are appropriate for your child and his or her age/development level.):
Validate the child’s feelings. Do not minimize a child’s concerns. Let him/her know that serious school violence is not common, which is why these incidents attract so much media attention. Stress that schools are safe places. In fact, recent studies have shown that schools are more secure now than ever before.
Empower children to take action regarding school safety.Encourage them to report specific incidents (such as bullying, threats or talk of suicide) and to develop problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Encourage older children to actively participate in student-run anti-violence programs.
Discuss the safety procedures that are in place at your child’s school.Explain why visitors sign in at the principal’s office or certain doors remain locked during the school day. Help your child understand that such precautions are in place to ensure his or her safety and stress the importance of adhering to school rules and policies.
Create safety plans with your child. Help identify which adults (a friendly secretary, trusted teacher or approachable administrator) your child can talk to if they feel threatened at school. Also ensure that your child knows how to reach you (or another family member or friend) in case of crisis during the school day. Remind your child that they can talk to you anytime they feel threatened
Recognize behavior that may indicate your child is concerned about returning to school. Younger children may react to school violence by not wanting to attend school or participate in school-based activities. Teens and adolescents may minimize their concerns outwardly, but may become argumentative, withdrawn, or allow their school performance to decline.
Seek help when necessary. If you are worried about a child’s reaction or have ongoing concerns about his/her behavior or emotions, contact a mental health professional at school or at your community mental health center.