Across the Long Island Sound in an elementary school in Newtown, CT, 27 people have reportedly been shot and killed, 18 of them children, according to Newtown Patch.
The shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a man with four guns, including a high-powered rifle, has school and police officials in the Town of East Hampton re-examining safety measurements. Meanwhile, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson has asked that all town flags be flown at half mast. "Let's all say a prayer for all affected by this horrible event," Wilkinson wrote in an email.
"I am watching, with horror, the reports of what transpired in CT earlier today; as educators we have, unfortunately, been increasingly exposed to similar events, in rural areas that one would not expect to be the site of such tragedy," Stuart Rachlin, the superintendent and principal of the Wainscott School, said in an email on Friday.
His district already has security measures in place. "In Wainscott, our doors are locked, and only people who are 'buzzed in' are permitted to enter; there is a camera and intercom. Visitors don't necessarily have to have an appointment, but there must be a reason for an individual's entry verified."
Within the East Hampton School District, Superintendent Rich Burns said, "We have very definite procedures in place. Those visiting the high school have to sign in at the Main Office (the doors from the lobby to the school are not open after school starts) and visitors to the Middle School have to be buzzed in, like they do at John Marshall. All other doors are locked, and we mean business. Student safety is our utmost concern."
Burns continued, "I will definitely have conversations with the building principals and the custodial staff to make sure that all of our safety precautions are being followed to the letter, but I believe we do an excellent job of keeping to the protocol."
School officials such as Springs School principal Eric Casale sent out emails to parents, who were, no doubt, thinking: Could this happen here?
"I will be meeting with our staff at the end of the school day along with local law enforcement to go over the situation and review all safety protocols as part of our emergency response procedures," Casale said. "I ask that all parents please continue to follow the measures for entering and exiting the building which includes registering with Brenda, our greeter when you come to the building for any business." He reminded parents to use the designated doors when they attend school functions.
At the Montauk School, superintendent Jack Perna said the incident will lead to a review of the school safety plan. "Our doors are locked, all visitors must sign in, no one allowed in unless we know where they are going," Perna said, adding that "all school personnel know it is 'not only their right but their responsibility' to question anyone in the building that they do not know."
Perna, as did Rachlin, said they will ask that the topic of student safety be discussed at their next school board meetings, in addition to the meetings with fellow superintendents.
It's a conversation that Town Police Chief Ed Ecker said he's sure to be having in the coming days with school administrators all over his jurisdiction, but he doesn't believe there's any cause for alarm on the South Fork. "There's no information to think something is going to happen here," he said.
Security at the five school districts in town are "tighter than they've ever been," Ecker said. There are many safety procedures in place, such as "checking in, locking doors and other protocols."
With the help of a school resource officer, "We discuss safety at all the schools pretty regularly," Ecker said, adding, "I think we're prepared."
Village Police Captain Mike Tracey, who heads up the townwide Emergency Services Unit with Town Police Lt. Chris Hatch, agrees. Not only do the 12 police officers on the unit train regularly (they trained in the former Stella Maris school building earlier this year), but they work to make sure school staff understand "what our expectations of them are and what our capabilities are."
Tracey said he reached out to the East Hampton School District (two of its schools are in the village jurisdiction) soon after word of the shooting reached him.
"I know the schools are undoubtedly going to get calls, probably not just from the media, but they are going to get calls and concerns from parents. If I didn't know any better, I'd be calling asking if they have plans in place for handling emergencies within the building," said Tracey, who is also a former school board member. "In fact, they do plan for acts of violence. They are required to under State Education Law, which is a good thing, so that people have roles and responsibilities designated in a variety of different situations."
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