Special to The Sun
OKLA. CITY —
I spent the weekend thinking about how incomprehensible it is that anyone could take the lives of 20 elementary school children, the six adults who tried to protect them and his own mother. I cannot fathom the grief engulfing the Newtown, Conn., community right now. The stories of heroism by teachers and school personnel are inspiring. Every day teachers do courageous things for our children. I have no doubt that they and the fallen adults did not have a moment’s hesitation in response to this horrifying situation. To say my thoughts and prayers go out to them is too small an offering.
With the enormity of what happened in Connecticut still rocking the consciousness of the nation, I know that every parent in America is asking the same questions — how safe is my school? How did this happen? How could this be avoided? Those questions are being asked by Oklahoma parents, grandparents, educators and virtually each citizen of our state. Over time there will be answers concerning the attacker’s motive, but for now all of us must turn our focus on assuring that we have done everything possible to assure the safety of Oklahoma’s children in their classrooms.
I am confident that every school district in our state right now is focused on reviewing their safety plans and redoubling their efforts to make sure their policies are strong. In Oklahoma, every public school district is required to have a crisis plan that is reviewed and updated annually, as appropriate. They also are required to perform a minimum of two lockdown drills per school year that must conform to the procedures established by their school board. The situation in each of our districts varies with respect to the architectural configuration of each site, the availability of first responders and the district’s own policy concerning communications with families in the event of a lockdown.
I urge each district in the state to review these policies with their boards to determine if the policies need to be revised and then to assure that each employee of the district is very familiar with the policy and procedures. Every employee must know their roll in the event of a emergency such as this. I was impressed with the tornado disaster drill I had the opportunity to observe in the Jenks School District last spring. Students played the roles of victims while staff worked to form command teams that coordinated with first responders, helped to triage the “wounded” and made sure all students stayed safe until they were reunited with parents.
The point of the exercise was to assess the school’s safety plan; it is an exercise repeated each year with different disaster scenarios. I was impressed by not only the comprehensive nature of the drill and the coordination by all first responders with the Jenks school personnel but also by the way that every tiny detail of the response during the drill was observed, discussed and a plan developed on how to continually improve their response to this emergency. I applaud their efforts and urge each district to consider conducting a similar drill not only for natural disasters but also for those procedures that must take place to secure buildings in the event that a threat to student safety should occur.
As each district reviews their plan, I want to remind them that additional resources are available from the U.S. Department of Education that can be accessed on the State Department of Education’s Youth Violence Prevention website.
I know that each and every one of us are focused on assuring day in and day out that each child in our state is safe and feels safe within their school. Through vigilance and constant communication among educators, parents and law enforcement, we can work together toward that goal.
May God bless the memories of the fallen.
JANET BARRESI is state superintendent of public instruction of Oklahoma. She may be reached via her website at http://ok.gov/sde/.