Following last week’s devastating school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Wilton police and local officials have taken various measures to better provide security, emergency services and counseling for students.
“Since we first heard about the school shootings on Friday morning, I have been in contact with Chief of Police Lombardo and his senior staff,” school Superintendent Gary Richards said in a letter to parents.
Capt. John Lynch of the Wilton Police Department said the department must practice discretion and keep security operations confidential, but said schools have been very cooperative in the joint effort to protect the community.
“We are very fortunate in Wilton; we work together as a team and have a very communicative relationship with schools,” he said.
Police officers were on each school campus in town on Monday, and security measures were reviewed among police Chief Michael Lombardo, Dr. Richards and First Selectman Bill Brennan.
“As always, our number one priority is the emotional and physical safety of our children and the staff who work with them,” Dr. Richards wrote in his letter.
Principals at each of Wilton’s public schools have sent information to parents regarding the varying needs of students at different age levels, detailing various security enhancements and guidance services for children. Letters to parents are available on the district website at wilton.k12.ct.us.
Cheryl Jensen-Gerner, principal of Miller-Driscoll School, said faculty have refrained from discussing the tragedy with children on the basis of their age and individual needs.
“This must remain an individual parent choice,” she wrote in her letter to parents. ”We have however tried to provide some guidance in resources from experts that we have posted on the website and in my previous communication.”
Miller-Driscoll offers a mental health team for students and staff, and teachers have been willing to speak quietly with students on an individual basis. Parents of students who met with a guidance counselor will be called at the end of the day as a follow-up procedure.
All doors at the school, except the main office, will remain locked, and custodians will routinely circulate to check each door, Ms. Jensen-Gerner said.
Staff have been educated in emergency procedures, and there have been efforts to minimize visitor traffic by temporarily cutting non-essential volunteer work.
Faculty has been advised to help everyone return to a normal schedule, Ms. Jensen-Gerner said.
“We love and care about all our children at Miller-Driscoll School and will do all that we can to support them and to support you as their parents,” she said.
As usual, all guests at Cider Mill School are required to present identification at the window outside the front office to obtain a visitor’s badge before entering.
Staff initially withheld news of the tragedy from children, in order for parents to speak with them in their preferred manner. They later read an announcement to children, informing them of a “tragic” and “incredibly unusual” event and reminding students school is generally “one of the safest places for children.”
Ginny Rico, principal of Cider Mill School, said guidance staff and administrators have prepared methods for speaking with children and staff in need, and stressed the importance of resuming regular routines.
Many adults will be on hand at recess, and children are required to be accompanied by an adult on the sidewalk near the bus platform or lower parking lot.
Services are also available for students’ social and emotional needs, and the district website offers resources for parents to help children cope with traumatic events.
Ms. Rico urged visiting adults to refrain from discussing or mentioning the Sandy Hook tragedy while on school grounds.
At Middlebrook School, “all measures are in place to provide a safe and nurturing environment,” according to Principal Julia C. Harris.
“Our school counselors, psychologists, and administrators will be available throughout the day to talk to your children and provide support for you,” she wrote parents.
Resources for parents have been posted on the school website (cidermillschool.org).
“I want you to know that the adults surrounding you are devoted to making sure that you have a safe and caring place to come to each day,” Ms. Harris read to students before a moment of silence was held to honor the students, staff and families affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy.
“When we learned of the tragedy in Newtown, we immediately took additional safety precautions,” wrote Wilton High School Principal Robert O’Donnell.
“We had extra police presence here at our school, in addition to School Resource Officer [Richard] Ross, who worked closely with our administrative team throughout the day.”
The high school also created a “crisis center,” which is currently staffed by counselors, psychologists and social workers, offering students a variety of guidance resources.
“It is important for the parent community to know that our crisis team has a plan in place to support the school community,” said Mr. O’Donnell.
Bo Mitchell, president and founder of 911 Consulting in Wilton and a former police commissioner, said it is imperative that schools and other facilities practice and review emergency plans.
“In response to the Newtown school massacre, Wilton emergency services will do an expert job of beefing up protection of all schools in town,” he said. “Understand that many emergency services will be taking additional precautions that they won’t show and tell the public.”
He recommended that all staff be currently trained in the latest emergency response practices.
“Ensure you and your colleagues have been trained,” he said. “Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.”
More information on safety measures is on the Wilton school district website at wilton.k12.ct.us.