Iowa parents wary of school safety in wake of tragedy
Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -
Eastern Iowa students headed back to school Monday for the first time since Friday morning's tragedy, in which 26 people, including 20 young kids, died when a gunman opened fire in a Newtown, Conn. elementary school.
Monday was an uneasy morning for parents, dropping off their children at school in the wake of Friday. Many found themselves in the same position as Dubuque parent Mary Sutter. Her six-year-old son Bradly is in the first grade at Eisenhower Elementary School in Dubuque.
"You know, I almost thought about not bringing him," she said Monday morning after dropping him off. "I don't know, it's scary."
Bradley is the same age as many of the victims of the Friday morning shooting.
"I came home from work that night... and I hugged him... and was so glad that he was home in bed, and I told him that happened to some little boys that were the same age as him and that's why I was scared," Sutter said. "I'm hoping that they take extra precautions to prevent that from happening ever again."
Eisenhower Elementary principal Andy Ferguson said the school has emergency safety plans in place.
"Any time there's a situation like this, we're able to re-look at our situations, re-look at our plans," Ferguson said Monday morning, shortly after an all-staff meeting. "Sadly, there's things that we can learn from each situation, but we want to make sure that our plans are as up-to-date and as current as possible and that we're doing everything in our power to make sure school is safe."
Like all schools in the Dubuque Community School District, Eisenhower Elementary's doors are always locked. Visitors need to buzz in to the secretaries in the main office, who decide whether to let that person enter. Visitors always sign in and wear a badge while in the building. Security cameras monitor the school's secondary doors, which are also locked and equipped with a buzzer system.
However, some parents wonder whether windows and glass doors make forced entry too easy.
Superintendent of Dubuque Community Schools Stan Rheingans said the district will be reviewing its safety policies and plans in coming weeks.
"We do have hundreds if not thousands of windows in our buildings throughout the district, and so to change that would be something we'd have to think about: is there a security issue there? Are we really solving a problem? So a lot of decisions to be made," Rheingans said.
There is a balance that schools must strike between safety and limiting a student's environment, Rheingans said.
"We don't want to create a prison scenario. We want our schools to be active, vibrant places where students come to learn," Rheingans said. "It's difficult for us to create sort of a bunker or prison mentality. That being said, we have to weigh the risks and make sure that we make that right balance to serve our students' needs but also to protect them from, you know, the dangers that could come to our door."
Staff members throughout the district met at their respective school buildings Monday morning before students arrived, to make sure everybody was on the same page.
Rheingans said he and principals received many e-mails from parents over the weekend, some of whom asked that staff avoid talking about Friday's incident in schools.
"We have parents who have given their sons and daughters access to almost all the information," and others, Rheingans said, who have chosen to tightly limit what their kids know about the Friday morning shooting in Connecticut.
"At the high school level, students will have a lot more with social media information available to them, and so I would think at the high school level there will be some class discussions, maybe social studies class, those types of things," Rheingans said.
The district's elementary school staff members will not be addressing the shooting with kids, Rheingans said. If a young student needs to talk about the incident, however, counselors and administrators are available to them.
Ferguson said any parent who would like some guidance in addressing the tragedy with their child may contact their kid's school for resources and advice.
Ferguson said there has never been a live lockdown drill at Eisenhower, although there are plans in place and teachers have reviewed the steps with students in the past in an age-appropriate manner. He said it's a possibility the future may hold live lockdown drills.
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