Security ramped up at Suffolk schools

Published 9:15 pm Monday, December 17, 2012

A Suffolk police officer monitors the scene outside Creekside Elementary Monday. In response to the Connecticut school shooting, Suffolk Public Schools has asked the city’s police department to step up patrols to schools.

A little more than 72 hours after the Sandy Hook massacre sickened the world, a police car parked out front was the only thing out of the ordinary at one Suffolk elementary school Monday.

While the female officer kept a watchful eye outside — something one mightn’t have seen at Creekside before Friday — inside the building, kids recited the Pledge of Allegiance, listened to their teachers and cut in line at the cafeteria.

During a 30-minute meeting at the Suffolk school district’s Main Street offices early Monday, senior administrators formulated several precautionary responses to the shooting that cut short the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators at the Connecticut elementary school.

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Suffolk Police Department has been asked to provide more patrols both inside and outside school buildings, particularly at elementary schools, and school resource officers in middle and high schools have been directed to increase their presence.

Principals have been asked to verify their school’s compliance with security procedures and discuss crisis plans with faculty and staff.

It was also decided at the meeting to organize external police-supported safety audits of all buildings in addition to regular audits, district spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said.

A School Messenger message prompting all students and staff to ensure the district’s records of contact details are updated was scheduled to go out Monday night.

“We hope you will never need to receive such an emergency message, but making sure the school can reach you wherever you are is an action we hope you take immediately,” the message said.

Bradshaw wrote, “Automated phone calls are automatically made to the main contact phone listed in the student database, which is typically the home phone. Any communication during school-hour emergencies which should be directed to other phones must be registered through School Messenger.”

Principals reported that Monday was a “fairly typical day,” Bradshaw wrote. “A few elementary students may have appeared withdrawn when they arrived at school, but an encouraging word and a hug made a difference.”

Most schools reported no requests for counselors, and principals fielded “a few” parent questions on security concerns.

The commonwealth of Virginia has announced plans to review school safety “at all levels” and identify resource needs, according to a news release from Gov. Bob McDonnell.

A state task force made up of educators, public safety experts, local leaders and legislators will also review school safety, and a new Department of Criminal Justice Services position will be dedicated to school and campus safety issues, according to the release.

Back at Creekside, an old college friend of music teacher Jamel Gibson lost a 6-year-old daughter at Sandy Hook.

“I happened to see him on the news and I went to the computer — social media was just going in overdrive,” Gibson said.

He called a couple of other friends from the University of Hartford’s jazz department to inquire after his friend, but thought it best not to intrude upon the family in its time of grief.

“I didn’t really fully know what to say, but our friends up there, I have been in contact with them,” Gibson said. “When we get out for break, I’m going to go up there.”

Southside Hampton Roads public schools divisions are encouraging families to donate to the United Way of Western Connecticut to help victims’ families. Donate online at