School districts across the region are responding to the shooting tragedy in a Connecticut Elementary school with shock while preparing to comfort children returning to school on Monday.
Many districts held emergency meetings Friday afternoon and plan early morning meetings Monday to provide psychological assistance to traumatized local students.
"We are deeply sorry about this tragedy," said Dr. Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools. "But we are already looking at preparations for Monday, when the children return to school."
Lewis and other area school administrators say the challenge will be comforting the issue with young children who have been exposed to a weekend of disturbing images on television and social media. Teams of social workers and psychologists will be in place Monday to look for warning signs and children unable to comprehend the tragedy.
"All the school principals were alerted to the crisis this afternoon and asked to alert their staffs to be prepared to have a faculty meeting first thing Monday morning," said Robert Schilling, executive director for assessment, student data and technology services at Massapequa Public Schools.
"We'll have social workers, psychologists helping our teachers prepare for whatever comes," Lewis said, adding the faculty will be guided to look for signs of distress among their students.
Schilling said his district is following events in Connecticut and will continue to implement its regular security protocols. An additional adult presence was called in and was visible during dismissal Friday afternoon, he said. Security measures in Massapequa and Plainview are typical of other local districts. A security team is in place in the schools; doors are locked and visitors are signed in and monitored.
Nothing, however, short of an armed police presence, can protect every school from the carnage evident at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., administrators agreed.
"One incident like this could never fully prepare us for the next one," Lewis said.
Local districts have security teams that assess national incidents like this one and go over "tabletop" procedures to attempt to manage similar emergencies, Schilling said.
Among them is Oyster Bay-East Norwich schools, which outlines its detailed plan on its website. The District-Wide Safety Team assesses potential threats to the school and its students. The panel, which meets regularly, is comprised of every school principal, administrators, the high school nurse and head custodians.
For the moment, the biggest threat is fear:
Experts suggested that parents of younger children limit their access to news media and details of the tragedy. Massapequa issued a statement on its website saying that "excessive and repeated exposure to this traumatic information can cause increased anxiety among children."
Administrators urged parents to take time to help children appropriately process the information. Plainview released information to parents on how to talk about school violence with their kids. See it here or the attached pdf file.
Many districts, including Plainview and Massapequa, will have pupil personnel and counselors available in each building for further support, school leaders said.
"We can only hope and pray the children are not affected long term by this tragedy," Dr. Lewis said.