Just after lunchtime Friday, as more facts were becoming available about the unspeakable tragedy of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen List sent this recorded message to all West Hartford Public Schools parents:
First, let me express our deepest sympathies to the families in Newtown, CT, following the tragic shooting that occurred in Sandy Hook Elementary School today. You will notice an increased police presence if you pick up your children from school today. This is purely precautionary.
In the coming days, if your child expresses concerns or anxiety related to this horrific crime, please notify your child's teacher or principal. Counselors will be available at all our schools.
Thank you, and please keep the families of Newtown in your thoughts.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said that a letter had been sent home to all families Friday afternoon. Moore also said that the district-wide crisis team as well as crisis teams at each school had held meetings and identified those in the district with potential ties to Newtown who might be in need of additional counseling.
Moore said that the administration notified principals at each school with a message to be provided to staff during the day. Counselors will be available on an as-needed basis on Monday, and Moore said that West Hartford will offer personnel to assist in Newtown if they need it.
West Hartford Public Schools also posted a link on its website to a document from the National Association of School Psychologists entitled "Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers." It provides guidance for how to talk with children of different ages about an act of senseless violence like the Sandy Hook shooting.
Meanwhile, at Wolcott Elementary School, blissfully unaware elementary school students were their regular Friday afternoon "Town Meeting" which this week included a dedicaton and ribbon cutting for the school's new solar voltaic system.
"We made sure the teachers were all aware, and we will be meeting Monday before school to discuss not only the physical safety but also the emotional safety of our community," Wolcott Principal Plato Karafelis told Patch after the assembly had concluded. He said he had advised parents of the elementary age students to turn off the news channels this weekend.
"We need to reassure families that they are safe. This is a tragedy of extraordinary proportion," Karafelis said. We need to consider the emotions of not only the children but also the adults in our community, he said.
At the high schools, where many students get a constant news feed on their smart phones from Twitter, word of the horror spread quickly.
At Conard High School, Principal Dr. Peter Cummings made an announcement during 8th period. His announcement was included in the following letter which was sent to all families via email:
As many of you know, there was a school shooting today in Newtown with many fatalities, including young children. This unspeakable act strikes all of us deeply – students, parents, teachers, and families. Many students had heard rumors or were upset about the incident, and I delivered the following message to them this afternoon:
This is Dr. Cummings. As many of you know already, today there was a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut where 27 people were killed, including many young children. While details are still unclear, this is something that shakes us all to our core. When something like this happens, we all suffer and ask why and if it could happen here. Your teachers, parents, and I are all as upset and confused as many of you are. We get through incidents like this by pulling together as a community. Our first priority is to continue to keep each student and adult in the building safe, and it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to make that happen. Being a safe community means that we support one another; that we talk to adults when a person is in danger; that we seek help when we need it; and that we take the time to reach out and resolve differences before they get out of control.
If you have questions or need support, please talk to your teachers, guidance counselors, or an administrator. We will get through this difficult situation together. I count on you to show that Conard is a place that has wonderful students and a supportive community. Please feel free to talk with me if you have questions.
The safety of our students is always our first priority. What we know from research and experience is that the best form of security is a positive school culture and supportive relationships with adults. However, we will also have extra police patrols and security presence in the coming days. We will have our counselors and support staff available to students if they need to process their feelings, and teachers are always available to connect with students and provide support.
Please join me in keeping the affected families in Newtown in our thoughts and prayers.
List's message to families was that there was an increased police presence at dismissal time at all schools. "We had an increased police presence, but there is no reason to believe that there is a threat here," Moore said.
Moore said there is and will continue to be a significant security presence throughout the district.
"My job description is student safety. I live and breathe it from the moment I wake up in the morning. I'll do whatever I can to make sure our kids are safe," Moore said.