‘Caution’ prompts school lockdown

Published 11:14 pm Friday, December 14, 2012

A “heightened sense of caution” after a deadly school shooting in Connecticut contributed to a Code Red lockdown at Suffolk’s Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School Friday afternoon.

The school was sealed for a brief period after a “suspicious character” was spotted on campus at dismissal time, spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said.

Friday’s killings in Newtown, Conn., reportedly leaving at least 27 dead, including 20 children and the shooter by his own hand, had caused a “heightened sense of caution,” Bradshaw added.

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CNN reported that police recovered three firearms from the scene and that another adult was found dead at a separate Newtown location.

The school’s principal and psychologist were among those killed in the shooting, about 9:40 a.m., CNN also reported.

With tensions high around the nation in the aftermath of the shootings, school officials were taking no chances here in Suffolk when they had suspicions at Mack Benn.

“The principal called a Code Red and called police. Police came and talked to the man, and he left,” Bradshaw said.

A call went out to bus drivers not to go to Mack Benn shortly after the man’s suspicious behavior sparked the alarm, under which classrooms were locked and children and staff instructed to move away from windows and doorways.

Meanwhile, in response to the shooting, administrators linked to emergency and safety information from the home page of the Suffolk Public Schools website.

A school division crisis plan addresses procedures, roles and responsibilities “in a variety of emergency situations,” Bradshaw wrote in an email.

Lockdown drills occur and middle and high schools, and these schools have resource officers from Suffolk Police Department on premises during school hours.

“Officers are assigned to specific elementary schools, visit them regularly, and are called to the school whenever needed,” Bradshaw wrote.

Principals at Suffolk’s public schools will probably discuss Friday’s Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre with their faculty and staff, according to Bradshaw, who was unaware whether Suffolk students had learned of the shooting during school hours Friday.

“Staff and/or students who need support today or when they return to school next week will be offered assistance by guidance counselors and other division professional staff as needed,” she wrote.

“Typically, teachers know how to answer students’ questions and help them continue to feel safe in their classroom and their school. All schools have a minute of silence each morning, and schools have the flexibility to mention a specific situation when making the announcement.”

Administrators and staff use actual events such as the Connecticut shooting “as an opportunity to review safety procedures.”

“Principals will probably discuss the matter with their faculty and staff,” Bradshaw added.

In an email to employees of the school system on Friday afternoon, Bradshaw encouraged them to remind parents of the “School Messenger” notification program available to families and employees.

“When you talk with parents about the shooting, please strongly encourage them to register for School Messenger,” she wrote. “They will not get text messages or calls to their cell phones about school-hour emergencies if they do not sign up.”

School Messenger replaces EduLink and Nixle, both of which had served similar purposes in previous years. The new service requires that families know the student ID numbers for their children and make an authentication call using a phone number currently in the student information system, according to the school system’s website.

Parents can begin the process by visiting www.spsk12.net and clicking the green “School Messenger” button.

Parent educator Sam Fabian of The Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters offered guidance for parents in helping their children deal with news of the shooting.

Children 5 and under “don’t need to know about things like this,” he stated in a news release.

He advised against watching TV news coverage of the shooting with young children in the room. “You can wait for children to ask you about what happened,” he said. “If they never ask, continue business as usual.”

Older children are likely to have questions, or a conversation can be started with something like, “’I know you’re hearing and seeing a lot about what happened at the school in Connecticut. How does this make you feel?’” Fabian wrote.

Fabian’s complete tips can be found online here.