PEPPERELL -- In the wake of the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 children and six adults, left parents broken-hearted and rattled the nation to its core, North Middlesex Superintendent of Schools Joan Landers is taking action to assuage community fears by reviewing the long-standing safety procedures of the district and holding an informational session for parents.
Although the protocols have been solidly in place for years and it is district policy to review them annually both with school staff and emergency personnel, Landers said in light of the recent tragedy, school administrations nationwide will undoubtedly be double- and triple-checking all of their security procedures.
"Everyone in the country is going to be looking at everything," she said. "We would be remiss if we didn't hold meetings right now."
At 9 a.m. on Monday, Landers held a meeting with school leadership and representatives from the Police and Fire departments of Pepperell, Townsend and Ashby to debrief and review the safety policies.
"We have an emergency-response protocol in the district. We are revealing that at this time. For years, we have had safety precautions in place, but as a team we reviewed that," she said.
The district has a district safety team that regularly reviews emergency-response protocol and have lock-down procedures and guidelines for the staff to respond to an intruder on the premises. There are also plans in place for incidents involving students bringing weapons onto school property. But, she said, part of the school's safety procedures are to keep the details under wraps for confidentiality reasons.
"You don't want to let everyone know all of your safety procedures," she said.
Landers has scheduled a informational parent meeting on Jan. 3 at 7 p.m. at the high school. The central office and leadership team are meeting to set the agenda on Wednesday morning.
The purpose of the meeting is two-fold, said Landers: "To communicate with parents about our coordinated efforts at this time and to also help people and parents, if they have concerns, on how to speak of incidents of this nature to their children in a developmentally appropriate way."
Landers hopes to be able to engage expert speakers to attend the meeting and is working with Townsend Police Chief Erving Marshall to compile a list of contacts. However, it is too early to say if this will be possible, she said, as many experts she knows are currently on the scene in Connecticut or tied up assisting people with the tragedy.
Landers has been working nonstop since the tragedy occurred on Friday. Over the weekend, Landers sent out a letter to parents and guardians of the students at every age level in the district.
"I will communicate with all staff members of the North Middlesex Regional School District prior to Monday to ensure the level of vigilance that exists in our schools remains high. We will also provide staff members with additional resources and information on responding appropriately to our students' needs," Landers wrote in the letter.
The school's counseling staff is available to offer support to any student having difficulty due to the tragedy.
"Following incidents of this nature, it is important that we all work together to ensure we have the necessary supports in place to create a culture of resiliency in our school community," wrote Landers.
Landers has also been communicating with school administrators statewide.
"I have been in touch with superintendents across commonwealth. I've have been communicating over the weekend with the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education," she said. "We're all working together to keep our children safe."
In regards to Newtown, Landers, like the rest of the country, is profoundly saddened by the loss that the community is facing.
"My heart absolutely goes out to these people. It's beyond painful to see what these parents and this community must be going through. It's horrible. Your initial reaction is what can we all do to help?"
In her letter, Landers encourages parents to speak with their childrens' school administrators with any questions. She also provided websites with information available to parents on helping their children cope with the incident: the National Association of School Psychologists "Talking to Children about Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers" (nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/talkingviolence.pdf) and the University of Minnesota's "Talking to Kids About Violence Against Kids" (extension.umn.edu/distribution/youthdevelopment/components/7414-05.html).