Cobb Schools spokesman Jay Dillon said school safety plans at all of the county district’s schools are currently under review by administrators.
He also said Jeff Dess from the Cobb Prevention/Intervention Department sent a letter to principals over the weekend outlining how they should speak to students about the incident.
“The best response is to be direct,” he advised. “If students ask if a shooting like that can happen at our school, reassure them that they are safe. Bad things do happen but we have many adults here working to keep you safe. Please remember, we do not want to raise their anxiety by adults bringing it up and having frequent conversations about it.
“We also do not want to be having adult conversation, that kids can overhear. Please remember that middle and high can have more in depth conversation if the conversation is productive. Remember to send those students you are concerned about to the counselor for additional support.”
In regards to safety protocols, Dillon said all visitors are required to check into the front office and sign in.
“Many schools have machines that will print out a sticker with the visitor’s photo and name,” he said. “We do check the parent’s ID any time a student is checked out of school.”
Marietta Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck, who sent home a letter to parents Monday, said that school administrators have been reminded to be “vigilant” about visitor protocol and that they are also reviewing their crisis management procedures.
“We have just an overall sense that keeping kids safe is part of what we need to do in order for students to experience a productive learning environment,” she said.
The letter advises Marietta City families that the Marietta Police Department has increased patrols at all schools, each campus has a lockdown and evacuation plan, security cameras are placed throughout each campus, shortly after the morning bell all doors aside from the main entrances are locked and can only be entered with a key card and that counselors are “on alert” to meet with teachers, parents and students to provide assistance.
Lembeck said as far as talking to the students about the shooting, they are trying to make sure there is a sense of normalcy in the classroom and focusing on learning.
“However, if a student does bring this up and does seem concerned, upset or needs to talk about it, the counselors are ready to meet those students’ needs,” she said. “I visited Hickory Hills Elementary Schools this morning … the teachers were doing a wonderful job of business as usual.”
Area private schools are also revisiting their emergency management plans and making sure counseling is available for students if needed.
Walker’s head of school Jack Hall and the lower school principal Megan Howard have sent emails to parents about the additional support and awareness.
In Hall’s letter, which was sent out Monday, it states that he met briefly with his administrative team Monday to “debrief about the tragic events at Newtown and to discuss the continued importance of safety at Walker.”
Walker currently has two full-time security personnel and three Marietta Police officers on campus for morning and afternoon carpool and visitors to both the preschool and lower school can only get into the building after being admitted by the administrative assistant.
“Please bear in mind that visitors include parents and others already associated with the Walker community and that wearing a photo ID badge is required,” he states in the letter.
Additionally, the school’s crisis management plan is currently under review and the latest version will be submitted to the school’s board of directors in early 2013.
“We are acutely aware of the importance of safety at Walker and cognizant of the reality that no security system is fool-proof,” he states. “Everyone at Walker is committed to doing all we can to protect the children with who we have been entrusted.”
In Howard’s letter, which was sent to parents Sunday, she outlined guidelines developed by the National Association of School Psychologists to help speak to students about the tragedy and advised them that the school counselor will be on hand for support if needed.
“We want you to know that everyone at Walker is working together every day, and over the coming weeks, to assure that every child feels safe and secure while at school. Our number one focus is on the safety, security, and education of your children,” she states in her letter.
Jeanine Marlow, a Cornerstone Prep parent and spokesperson, said their school doors lock within 15 minutes of the school day starting each morning and visitors can only be buzzed in from the front door.
They also have a camera at the front door so front office personnel can see who is visiting the school and individuals are required to show their ID upon entering the building.
“We were reminded by this (shooting) that if you don’t know the person, don’t just automatically buzz them in,” she said. “We will be much more active in that and we’ll ask who they are and why they are visiting.”
Marlow also said the biggest change made on Monday had to do with the conversations they had students in the upper school.
“We talked to our students and explained that we know they’re trying to be helpful and their intentions are good but they need to go get an adult and let us determine if this person can come into the school,” she said.
They also reviewed their emergency response policies and procedures and will continue their monthly drills related to emergencies.
“It is good to just go over them again to remind us what we’re supposed to do,” she said. “Sadly for all of us, it was a big wake up call and we may feel safe and secure and you can do all you can do but it’s good to review.”
Some parents are on heightened alert in light of the shooting at well.
Julia Villarreal has two children that attend Sope Creek Elementary in east Cobb and said Monday that it was “very difficult” to send her kids to school Monday.
“We filter their access to media incredibly,” she said. “So, I really considered keeping their innocence at least one more day.”
She is not as concerned about the safety at the school because there is very limited access to the building, but she was concerned about her children hearing about the shootings throughout the school day.
After speaking to teachers when dropping them off Monday morning, she felt a little bit better about it.
“I got an email from counselors today and one teacher emailed us advising that it wasn’t discussed in class,” she said. “It was extremely difficult but I do feel that it’s a village there … a 1,100 person village and I trusted them. You just have to make a leap of faith.”
However, not everyone was an anxious about sending their children to school yesterday.
Morris Pech, who picks up his granddaughter and neighbor’s child from Hickory Hills Elementary in Marietta every day, said the shootings in Connecticut didn’t hit close to home for him.
“I’m not scared at all .. I see that going into a lot of schools, you have to show the proper ID,” he said Monday. “I think that security is sufficient. If anyone really wants to go in and do something, they will. I don’t know that anything could be done in those cases.”