The Duncan Banner

December 16, 2012

School safety becomes everyone’s concern

By Megan Bristow, Derrick Miller and Toni Hopper
The Duncan Banner

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Tragedy struck the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Friday, when a 20-year-old man opened fire, killing 20 children and six adults.

While the shootings were happening, many teachers locked doors and barricaded the children in classrooms and helped hide them.

Local educators and parents shared their thoughts and talked of the safety precautions necessary.

Duncan Superintendent Sherry Labyer said school violence is a school’s worst fear realized.

“That’s every educator’s worst nightmare,” Labyer said. “It just makes me sick. I just don’t understand.”

Terry Davidson, Comanche Public Schools superintendent, said his heart goes out to the families of the students,

“It’s hard,” Davidson said. “It’s just so tragic. People want to come up with the plan. I’m sure they had that. Safety is the number one concern for us.”

Labyer said they have made contact with Duncan police officers to find how to make the schools the safest. While the elementary offices have been reconfigured to make people enter through the offices, Labyer said absolute safety isn’t possible.

Labyer said the police told her that if a shooter wants to enter a school, he will find a way.

“That’s the harsh reality we face,” Labyer said.

Kayce Booth, who has three children and also is a teacher’s assistant in the Duncan school district, shared her thoughts on her Facebook page and also with The Banner.

“Before today I had taken for granted the summer remodel that my kids school got,” she wrote. “They made it to where anyone entering the school had to go through the office and then a second set of doors were added that you have to be buzzed through, making it harder for anyone to just enter the main area.”

Tabrina Whitlow has two boys in Duncan schools, a pre-K and second-grader.

“My 4-year-old told me they have a drill for if a stranger ever comes into the school with a gun. He said they go in the class, lock the door, turn off the lights and hide,” she said. “My 7-year-old has mentioned school lockdown before. It’s so sad that in addition to fire and tornado drills our children now have to have stranger with a gun drills. Children shouldn’t have to fear that kind of thing happening at school.”

That’s some of the efforts being done by Duncan Public School District.

Davidson and Labyer said their school districts continue to enhance safety precautions. Both have crisis plans. Duncan also has a lockdown plan, which will help protect the students in such a situation.

Labyer said the goal is to be proactive instead of reactive. She said her biggest concerns are at the high school, which will soon undergo improvements to make the campus safer, which is the result of a bond issue passed earlier this year.

Booth recognizes that the district is working hard to improve the school campuses.

“I stood there looking at it thinking what a great community I live in where they are willing to go to the extra expense to keep our children safe,” she said.

Davidson said there is no way to protect 100 percent, but schools will do their best.

“It’s easy to say what you’ll do until you’re in that situation,” he said. “We think about it all the time. We have 1,100 students. Every day I pray for the safety of everyone.”

While he worries mostly about accidents beyond the school district’s control, he also worries about senseless acts of violence impacting Comanche students.

Vicki Davison, Empire Public Schools Superintendent, said that her relationship with the Stephens County Sheriff’s Department is helpful in feeling safe.

“If we have anything here, they are here sometimes within five minutes,” she said.

Before today’s tragedy, they had already planned a simulation of a school shooting with the sheriff’s office for school staff to be conducted sometime in the spring. Davison hopes this will help teachers and staff be prepared if this incident were to ever happen at Empire.

“We have no current cause for concern but we want to be proactive,” Davison said.

Davison said that during school on Friday, many of the students had not heard of the incident in Connecticut but she was expecting students to be more nervous on Monday. She guaranteed that staff and teachers would be there to reassure the students.

“There is going to be nervousness,” she said. “I hope parents will monitor what their kids watch and have good discussions with them afterward.”

Labyer’s final thoughts seem to be on everyone’s minds.

“It always makes you stop and think ‘what if?” she said.

“People who are in public education feel like we’re all a team, all in it together,” Labyer said. “Our prayers are with that entire school.”