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Deputies step up school patrols

After the shooting in Connecticut, local educators look at campus safety

Posted: December 18, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 18, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Flags fly at half-staff at Veterans Historical Plaza on Monday.

 

More sheriff’s deputies were patrolling near Santa Clarita Valley schools on Monday, and fewer students were in some classes, reflecting the profound local impact of Friday’s school shooting in Connecticut.

“It’s a very solemn mood here today,” said Diane Miscione, principal at Charles Helmers Elementary School in Valencia.

“My Monday morning started off with a school debriefing with my entire staff,” she said. “The mood is very grim. There’s deep sadness and empathy for the victims.”

Absences were up slightly at Helmers, she said, but pointed out her school gets out for the holidays on Wednesday.

Across the nation, Americans mourned the 20 students and six adults killed during the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Two 6-year-old victims were buried Monday, the beginning of what will be a parade of funerals and memorials leading up to Christmas Day.

Everywhere, residents groped for an explanation of the senseless and reassurances of safety.

School patrols

Sheriff’s deputies were directed Monday to step up their patrols at all local schools, said Lt. Tom Bryski of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.

“We just had them do extra checks on all schools, pretty much all our schools,” he said. “We wanted (deputies) to just make their presence known.”

The extra security was well received by principals.

“We had a more visible presence with the Sheriff’s Department,” said Rhondi Durand, principal at Arroyo Seco Junior High School.

“We’re just hoping to put parents’ minds at ease and kids’ minds at ease.

“For everybody in education, it (the shooting) really hit them hard,” she said. “We’re always preparing, but you just can’t prepare for everything.”

In Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck called for officer visits to the city’s public and private schools when they reopen after the winter break.

“It’s important to send a message to our parents and our youth. Our schools are safe. We’ll make them safer,” said Beck.

“We can’t let a tragedy — no matter how great it is — 3,000 miles away from here affect the education of our children.”

Arroyo Seco in Valencia is the campus where training officers conducted drills last summer, so deputies know how to respond to emergency situations such as school shootings. Knowing this is reassuring, she said.

Durand at Arroyo Seco said there’s comfort in knowing sheriff’s deputies trained for school shootings on her campus last summer.

The school and Santa Clarita Elementary School across the street were at the center of a national controversy in September when a man tracked to a nearby house allegedly posted online threats to kill children.

Sheriff’s patrols were stepped up at both schools in response to that incident but were also increased in response to Friday’s shooting.

Grief management

At Meadows Elementary School, which is part of the Newhall School District, principal Chad Rose described Monday as peaceful.

“We’ve responded to parents’ inquiries as they’ve come to the office,” he said.

Two psychologists were on hand at Helmers “if needed at any time,” said Principal Miscione said.

“I talked to the teachers about sadness and angst,” she said, adding it’s “very important” to be responsive to the concerns of students but not to overwhelm them with sadness.

“The upper grades are talking about it more,” she said. “As for the primary grades, I’ve had several emails from parents saying ‘Please don’t talk to them about it.’”

Miscione said she and her teachers “address it when it comes up.”

Other district officials note hearing the same concerns voiced.

“In speaking with elementary school leaders, it appears that they are getting quite a few calls of concern,” said Hart district spokeswoman Gail Pinsker, “perhaps since this incident occurred at an elementary school, and these are the most vulnerable group in an incident such as this.”

Security

“All of our campuses have perimeter fencing, and during the school day all gates are locked and visitors are required to come through the main entrance and sign in and be identified,” said Pinsker of William S. Hart Union High School District, which governs public junior and senior high schools.

Each campus has safety and emergency plans in place that are reviewed annually, she said.

Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public schools, and the California Emergency Management Agency, sent a joint message to all California school districts over the weekend asking them to “take another close look” at their safety plans and prepare for a worst-case scenario.

That’s exactly what the Hart district planned to do, said Pinsker.

“When an incident such as the tragedy in Connecticut on Friday occurs, it causes us to take another look at our safety plans, which we are doing and will continue to actively review and enhance,” she said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of all the victims in Friday’s shooting.”

Hart district Superintendent Rob Challinor said crisis counseling teams were on hand to help students, parents or staff deal with the tragedy.

“This is a good time for parents to discuss with their children the importance of speaking to a trusted adult concerning matters that they hear about in the media and online,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

jholt@signalscv.com

661-287-5527

 

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