By CHERIL VERNON
With Friday’s school shooting in Connecticut fresh on everyone’s minds, many local schools are reviewing their emergency operation plans, including Palestine and Westwood independent school districts.
“As a parent and as an educator, our most precious resource is our children. Our kids come to school every day, and while they may have their own struggles, we like to think they are safe. The incident at Sandy Hook reminds us all that no matter how many precautions school districts take, people have faults,” Palestine Independent School District Superintendent Jason Marshall said Monday in response to the tragedy. “Sometimes these faults have catastrophic consequences. In my opinion, the most important thing we can do is to treat others as we want to be treated. In doing so, we see less conflict and fewer problems.”
Marshall said Palestine ISD has several security measures in place in case of a similar situation.
“All of our facilities are locked during the school day, and they have one main access point. This access point is monitored 100 percent of the time by a school employee,” Marshall said.
Other precautions at PISD include: receptionists/secretaries at each of the front entrances; many of the facilities have lockdown capabilities with vestibules; all exterior doors are locked to prevent walk-in intruders; visitors are required to check-in at the front entrances; employees wear badges to identify themselves; each campus practices lockdown drills throughout the school year; and interior classrooms have lockdown capabilities as well.
“It is important to review each school incident throughout the country and to understand how to better prepare ourselves to handle these situations,” Marshall said. “Additionally, we had already decided this past summer to have a new updated safety audit performed sometime during the spring of 2013 to identify any potential weaknesses in our safety plan. We will address those weaknesses over the summer of 2013.”
At Westwood Independent School District Monday, WISD Superintendent Ed Lyman said Westwood’s school district maintains an emergency/crisis intervention plan that incorporates most of the known hazards, updated regularly as per Texas Education Agency requirements.
“Our campuses practice fire drills, lock down drills, and staff are always on the guard against hazards. Westwood ISD in recent years has installed numerous security measures including cameras, alarms and fencing. Teachers work with students to heighten awareness of safety procedures,” Lyman said. “Many of the details of the WISD procedures are confidential so that potential attackers don’t access information that could help them defeat our security measures.”
In addition, Lyman credits Westwood ISD’s relationship with the Palestine Police Department, local fire departments and the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.
“These first responders are familiar with our campuses and they practice emergency drills at WISD at least once each year,” Lyman said. “We will discuss several additional measures as administrators and with the school board at the January meeting. We will install additional hardware at various places district-wide and step up training for all teachers and students.”
For both superintendents, the school shooting in Connecticut affected them personally.
“The shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut last week is a tragedy. The fact that any young person could take the lives of 27 people, 20 of which were children, is unthinkable. My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Newtown and to all students and parents in the country,” Marshall said.
Lyman echoed Marshall’s sentiments.
“Nothing could be more tragic or evil than to attack innocent children and schools. Our prayers are with the families of these victims and all the members of the Newtown community,” Lyman said.