Genoa-Kingston Superintendent Joe Burgess never considered that a staff member’s child could be a safety threat.
Leaders in his district review their emergency plans twice a year, but he said they’ll start an impromptu third review Monday in light of Friday’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that left 26 people, plus the shooter, dead. Media reports Friday afternoon indicated the shooter’s mother worked at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“That school probably didn’t think anything about the child of a worker,” Burgess said. “... It seems every time you think you have bases covered, something else comes up. Any school official you talk to is going to tell you it’s our greatest fear.”
Local school leaders sent their sympathies and prayers to their counterparts in Connecticut on Friday as they determined how they would address their own parents and students.
Both Gov. Pat Quinn and Northern Illinois University President John Peters referenced the Feb. 14, 2008, shooting at NIU in statements issued Friday afternoon. Quinn ordered flags in Illinois be flown at half staff in memory of those slain.
“Our hearts ache for the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and for their families,” Peters said in the statement. “We pray that they find strength and comfort today and in the many difficult days ahead. We share an understanding of the pain and devastation that such senseless violence inflicts, and we grieve alongside the community of Newtown, Connecticut.”
Burgess and Sycamore Community Unit School District 427 Superintendent Kathy Countryman both sent e-mails to district parents assuring them safety is a priority; DeKalb District 428 Superintendent James Briscoe expected to send a similar message to parents over the weekend.
Hiawatha High School will host a series of drills today that was planned for weeks. Kirkland Village President Les Bellah said residents should not to be alarmed to see first responders in the area.
He said the event would start at 9 a.m. and last for about eight hours.
Similarly, Sycamore High School staff will have intruder response training on Friday; other Sycamore schools already completed the annual training.
Talking about tragedy
Countryman offered some advice for parents on talking about the shootings with their children. She advised parents to limit children’s exposure to media coverage of the shootings, encourage their children to ask questions about the events, and to gently correct any misinformation in the children’s minds.
She said parents need to listen carefully.
“We never know how it’s going to impact individual students, but just listening and asking questions I think is going to be most important as we react to this,” Countryman said.
In fact, Charles Myers, a Northern Illinois University assistant professor of counseling, suggested parents of elementary school-aged children start by asking them questions. If their children don’t ask them about the shootings, parents can open the conversation by mentioning they might have heard about it at school and asking if they have any questions.
“Parents should not be afraid to talk about it with children,” Myers said. “If children are asking, then they want to know, and it’s important for them to have a conversation about it.”
He encouraged parents to validate children’s emotions without communicating panic or distress that could further scare their children. Young children likely won’t know anyone affected or be able to relate to the shooting itself, but they will respond to how adults around them react, Myers said.
“What’s real is the reactions or the emotions of the adults around them,” Myers said. “If the adult is pretty panicky, the child is going to be pretty panicky.”