Friday’s acts of violence shot terror not only across the community of Newtown, Conn., but throughout the nation.
Although schools are built to be safe places for children to learn, parents and communities are asking questions as to the safety of their own school buildings. McPherson USD 418 continues to take a number of precautions to protect its students.
“We take the safety and security of our kids at the utmost highest level,” Superintendent Randy Watson said.
The district meets quarterly with law enforcement, the fire department, county health and emergency management to review safety and security plans. Simulations and trainings take place. Students, faculty and staff also practice lock down and evacuation drills on a regular basis.
Each of the district’s six buildings also has security and other systems that deter easy access. The district did not want to go into the specifics of those security plans.
The district also has a no-tolerance policy for firearms on school property or at school activities. This means any breach of the policy would spell an automatic expulsion hearing, the results of which would depend on the situation.
Watson said the district aims to balance safety with reasonable come-and-go access for families.
“We’re trying to make them as safe as possible without going into a full-scale locked facility,” he said, using armed guards and metal detectors as examples. “We’re going to do what we can to make our kids as safe as possible.”
McPherson Police Chief Robert McClarty said local law enforcement has substantially enhanced its shooter response training within the last year. Officers have trained multiple times on this issue this year and have a few more scheduled trainings within the next several months.
“We’ve been actively working on this because of the potential around the nation,” he said.
McClarty advises everyone to have a plan in place and practice it. Individuals in shooter situations should place as many barriers as possible between them and the shooter and immediately call 911 so dispatch is aware of the situation.
“Active shooter incidents are not confined to just schools. They happen across the nation in a variety of different settings,” he said.
For many local educators, returning to work after the shooting has been difficult.
“Anyone involved in schools were saddened by what we heard,” Watson said. “This is a tragedy beyond words. It’s a senseless act of violence that’s taken place. Our hearts and prayers go out to their families and the entire community.”
He said he felt the weight of it himself, like many other administrators across the nation.
“It was a horrible day,” he said. “I felt like I was part of all of this happening. It’s the worst feeling you can have, even though it didn't happen in our schools because, unfortunately, it can happen anywhere.”
Watson said many in the district have felt the need to communicate further how much they care for McPherson families and children.
“We’re handling questions from kids and trying to reassure them school is a safe place to learn,” he said. “When something like this happens, you have to reassure people things are going to be OK. We pray it will never happen here, and we try to prepare so that it doesn’t.”