School districts across Indiana and Michigan are taking steps to learn a lesson from the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The process is a delicate one as administrators and teachers alike look to protect, but not imprison their students.
"It was Friday. I was actually at a meeting with all the superintendents in Berrien County. While I was there, I actually got a text from one of my board members,” Niles Community School Superintendent Richard Weigel said.
Weigel and his administrative staff held a joint meeting Sunday. There they drafted take-home letters for all 2,000 of the district’s K through 5th grade students. Teachers at Eastside Connections School distributed those letters Monday, with reassuring rhetoric guaranteeing change.
"We know that Sandy Hook Elementary had done a lot with its safety processes and procedures and yet we see what happened. So we look at that and recognize where we are good and where we need to improve too,” Weigel added.
Among the safety enhancements on the table; additional school resource officers and bulletproof glass within school doors and windows. Despite a tight budget, Weigel says no price tag trumps student well-being.
"This is a wake-up call at another level. It is going to change the way we look at safety. It is going to change some of the things we do in our schools. So it will have an impact, an impact all across the nation,” Weigel remarked.
Across the state line, Penn-Harris-Madison administrators were faced with a similar task, added protection, not total imprisonment of students.
The district oversees 10,600 pupils and 11 primary schools including Walt Disney Elementary, where in spite of how secure the building may be; the playground remains wide-open to any would-be killer.
P-H-M communications director Teresa Carroll tells NewsCenter 16, safety has long been the school corporation’s primary concern. However like Niles, it too is open to improvements.
“In both the spring and fall of this year, we held active shooter training at Penn High School that was attended by members of our own staff as well as people from around the region. P-H-M had a detailed plan in place for school safety. These are constantly reviewed and evaluated to make sure that we adhere to the best practice,” Carroll said in a written statement.
Since the attack on Columbine High School in April 1999, the U.S. has witnessed more than 30 school-related shootings. Sandy Hook Elementary is now ranked the second most deadly, following the April 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre, which left 32 dead and 17 others injured.
To read take-home letters drafted by Niles Community Schools and the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation, just click on the documents attached to this story.