, 2014


Sandy Hook tragedy sparks
security reviews in Lancaster
and Northumberland schools

by Audrey Thomasson

LANCASTER—The Lancaster County sheriff’s office stepped up school security this week, posting deputies as a precaution in response to Friday’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. Superintendent Dr. Daniel Lukich on Monday greeted students as they arrived at the primary school.

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Northumberland also put deputies on the alert, making periodic checks at the schools. Superintendent Dr. Rebecca Gates spent Monday at the schools to welcome students and assess security needs.

Many elementary school parents elected to forego the bus and took their kids to school, while others did not send them to school at all.

Lancaster

“We decided to be over cautious...because of copy cats,” said Sheriff Ronnie Crockett.

A copy cat shooter is someone who is inspired by a gun massacre and tries to re-create it.

The copy cat phenomenon has already started with news reports of several arrests, including an Indiana man who threatened to set his wife on fire and shoot up an elementary school.

According to Sheriff Crockett, his department responded to a false alarm Sunday at Lancaster Primary School. Some 20 law enforcement officers responded to “possible armed people” at the school after a teacher, who was working in the copy room, called the 911 operator after she overheard someone describing various rooms and locations as potential entry points for an assault.

Other law enforcement teams from Northumberland, state troopers and off-duty officers also responded, blocked off the street and surrounded the school for over two hours, Crockett reported.

“The two people who made the comments came to the sheriffs department later and said ‘I think we may have created a problem,’” said Crockett. The “intruders” turned out to be a school employee and her husband, a retired policeman.

“Law enforcement, parents and teachers are scared,” said Crockett.

As a precaution, he posted two deputies in each school this week. In addition to securing the facilities, the deputies assessed security measures at each school and met to strategize response plans, he said

According to Crockett, enhanced security at the schools could include adding metal detectors. Police also are reviewing lock-down procedures at each school and will be holding more response practice drills. Crockett has discussed security with school board chairman Patrick McCranie, a Virginia State Police trooper.

LPS on Monday reported 181 absences out of the 455 students.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the students, staff and families of Sandy Hook Elementary School,” said LPS principal Dr. Holly Wargo.

Wargo said the school has lock-down procedures similar to those used by Sandy Hook school and were recommended by the Virginia Department of Education.

An outstanding concern is security at the front entrance, which gives visitors direct access to the school. This week, Wargo added a desk and staff member at the front door to direct people to the office but she agreed it was not the best solution to prevent an intruder from entering the facility.

“Safety should always be the number one concern,” said Wargo. “With students ages 3 to 9, we must be vigilant in our responsibility.

“We have a number of lock-down procedures in place including when children are in class and other procedures when they change classes or are in the cafeteria,” said Wargo. “We hold teacher crisis drills and practice with the students.”

Lock-down procedures include a public address alert that requires students to enter the nearest classroom and teachers to lock the doors, block out windows, and secure children away from doors and windows.

Entry into the high school requires visitors to check in at the front office, said principal Dr. Lori Watrous. Hallways are equipped with cameras and the school has a crisis management plan, alert system and lock-down procedures—all practiced with student participation.

“We’re all concerned. We want to make sure our students and staff are safe,” Watrous said.

Increased security efforts are taking place at the middle school as well, according to principal Kim Hammond. Absentees increased, although Hammond wasn’t sure whether it was a result of Friday’s events or the approaching holidays.

She said teachers were assisted by several counselors and psychologists in answering questions from students who heard the news reports over the weekend.

Staff is being very vigilant in checking the security of doors and monitoring cameras that cover hallways and the parking lot, she said. However, the front entrance is open to people bypassing the office and heading to a classroom, which Hammond admitted is a concern.

“Before students arrived, we had a faculty-led remembrance for our teachers...and spoke each child’s name,” Hammond said. Also, students held a moment of silence and reflection about Friday’s events.

Northumberland

Capt. John Beauchamp of the Northumberland County Sheriff’s Department said uniformed deputies were stopping at county schools this week to reassure students of their presence.

He noted some members of the department received training last summer in an “active shooter” class. Additional training drills are planned, said Beauchamp.

Northumberland school superintendent Dr. Rebecca Gates spent Monday visiting faculty and students.

“I was at the elementary school as kids arrived...wearing a Christmas necklace and standing on the ramp with a deputy and welcoming children back to school,” said Gates.

Many of the children commented on the necklace. “It was a good way of getting them to focus on Christmas,” she said.

Many children in Northumberland’s middle and high schools wore Sandy Hook school colors this week, she reported.

Gates and school administrators spent Monday afternoon reviewing security precautions and lock-down procedures. She said the schools follow the state education department’s procedures for lock-downs.

“All of our schools have security systems at the front door” that prevent people from entering without checking in at the office, she said. Also, someone is always posted on the sidewalk as students arrive and depart.

There were several recommendations for additional camera monitoring sites and ideas for an “emergency knapsack” in each room to keep students occupied during a lock-down. She later met with some supervisors to discuss their ideas.

“There were a lot of good conversations,” said Gates.


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