News In Depth
Schools reviewing security plans
Schools around the US are reviewing security plans, adding extra law enforcement patrols and readying counsellors for the first day of classes since a shooting massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut.
Districts are asking local law enforcement to increase patrols. School officials in some areas sent messages to parents addressing security or stressing that they have safety plans that are regularly tested.
While some officials refuse to discuss plans in detail, it was clear that vigilance will be high this week at schools around the country.
Additional police patrols are planned in northern Virginia around Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest school system in the Washington area with 181,000 students. Counsellors will be available at all schools.
"This is not in response to any specific threat but rather a police initiative to enhance safety and security around the schools and to help alleviate the understandably high levels of anxiety," superintendent Jack Dale said.
Those sentiments were echoed to the south in Florida's Hillsborough County, where sheriff's office spokesman Larry McKinnon said unmarked and marked cars will patrol the schools along with officers in plain clothes.
The additional patrols will supplement officers already assigned to every high school and junior high school in the area to ease the fears of parents "who may feel uneasy about sending their children to school". The county's school system in the Tampa area includes around 195,000 pupils.
Aside from pupils' physical safety, administrators are also concerned about the psychological toll of the shootings. In Maryland's suburbs outside Washington, Montgomery County Public Schools will have counsellors available at each school to support the system's 149,000 students. Chief of staff Brian Edwards said officials posted advice online from the National Association of School Psychologists on Friday to help parents talk about acts of violence.
"Obviously, this is a very difficult situation that all school communities are dealing with and the entire nation is dealing with," Mr Edwards said, adding that the system does not discuss security procedures. "You can't change what occurred, but you try to do the best you can to help families cope."
In Tucson, Arizona, where a mass shooting last January killed six and wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others, the largest school district increased security. Tucson Unified School District spokeswoman Cara Rene said the district is participating in a memorial at one of its schools, with Ms Giffords' replacement, Ron Barber, a featured speaker. Mr Barber was with Ms Giffords at the constituent meet-and-greet and was among the wounded.
Planning is under way to help teachers and students with grief and fear issues when school resumes, and the district is working with Tucson police on security issues.
Officials in South Carolina's largest school district sent a note to parents on Friday ensuring they have safety plans that are regularly tested for a number of possible events.
Officials refused to details their plans, saying that would threaten the safety of its more than 70,000 pupils. Just last week, before the shooting in Connecticut, Greenville County schools superintendent W Burke Royster said the school system met members from every law enforcement agency in the county to review what to do in an emergency, and make sure they can all communicate.
The meetings take place frequently, and the next round is likely to involve any lessons that can be taken from the latest shooting.
"While all of us work diligently to prevent this type of tragedy and to prepare an effective response to all manner of possible events, we do so in the hope that our plans will never have to be utilised Mr Royster wrote in his note.
Milton Kuykendall, the superintendent of Desoto County School District, the biggest in Mississippi with 32,769 pupils, said he called for an evaluation of his schools' security policies and procedures immediately after the shootings in Connecticut.
Mr Kuykendall said the district already evaluates school security every year, but he decided to start that process now rather than waiting until later in the school year.
He also plans to remind principals throughout the district to be "on high alert". Pupils begin their Christmas break on Wednesday.