Our thoughts, prayers, and compassion are with those affected by recent school tragedies. I understand that these events create anxiety and concern among our parents, families, students, and staff. I would like to take this opportunity to communicate with you and assure you that the safety of our students and staff is a top priority for Henderson County Schools.
For years, we have partnered together with local law enforcement to ensure that our schools are safe. No child should should have to go to school in fear, and every parent should have a reasonable expectation that his or her child is safe.We work closely with local law enforcement and other professionals to develop procedures and policies to prevent and mitigate such events, to the best that is humanly possible.
We think it is important to remind parents and students about our policies to ensure a safe learning environment:
1. During the school day, all doors are locked and at the front entrance, visitors use an intercom system to communicate with front office staff before being allowed or “buzzed” inside.
2. All visitors entering the school must show identification that allows us to know who is in the building at all times.
3. All schools regularly practice lockdown drills; these processes will be implemented in response to any threatening event in or near a school, including an active shooter.
4. HCS has created a committee that includes school administrators and law enforcement representatives. The committee reviews safety concerns and identifies opportunities to enhance the safety and security of our schools. The committee has initiated intense active shooter training opportunities for staff.
5. Security cameras are on school campuses and school buses.
6. HPD officers are assigned to HCHS and Central Academy as School Resource Officers. These officers provide support to our middle schools as needed.
7. Mental health specialists have been hired for the school district.
8. We provide trauma informed care professional development for staff.
9. HCS implemented the STOP Tipline for online reporting of concerns about threats of violence, bullying or any issue involving the safety of students, such as drugs, self-harm, sexual abuse or any high-risk behavior. Concerns may be reported anonymously by clicking the STOP logo that appears on all HCS websites. Information is communicated immediately to district administrators trained in appropriate responses. We work diligently to maintain positive relationships with our students so that they feel safe in reporting concerns to a trusted adults. We take these concerns seriously and immediately investigate anytime issues like these are brought to our attention.
10. Public Social Media posts are monitored through a company, Social Sentinel
A few things to remember to help students, staff, parents, and community members:
1. Limit media exposure -- seeing and hearing images and descriptions of what happened can be its own kind of trauma exposure. While people may want to be informed, once they know the basic facts, there's no reason to continue to "tune in" to the gory details. As parents, you can protect your children by helping them understand media coverage while limiting their exposure to distressing images.
2. Monitor postings on social media (Facebook, Snapchat, twitter, instagram) Do not post or share inaccurate or non-confirmed information on social media. An inaccurate post can reach thousands within minutes and can cause confusion and anxiety. Our school administrators spend time tracking rumors starting with what was heard by who and then finding out who said what and when. Social media posts and messages are tracked as well when students share what they have seen and recieved.
3. If you have students who seem to need to discuss the events or are unable to stop themselves from expressing anxiety, refer them on to mental health providers in or beyond school to assist them in managing their feelings and thoughts.
4. Recognize that this may elicit symptoms that are similar to traumatic stress symptoms: intrusive thoughts, heightened anxiety, hyperarousal and increased reactivity, hypervigilance, and difficulties with concentration. You may also see some avoidance (this often manifests in students as a kind of denial about the severity or import of the event -- it's not callousness, it may be self-protection). You may also see some depression and hopelessness.
5. People react cognitively and emotionally in all kinds of ways -- including adults you work with or interact with in your community. Events like this will make some people more sympathetic to the mental health needs of youth, but it can make some people more hardened in their thinking that kids "like that" are "bad" and need to be expelled, separated, restricted, etc. from participating in regular activities. Often under stress we all revert to the primary schema that help us organize the world. Don't be surprised if you find yourself questioning things or thinking in ways that surprise you. recognize this in others and yourself as part of the stress response -- you can probably categorize it as a fight, flee or freeze response.
6. The urge to identify risk always increases after tragedy. Unfortunately, there isn't a fool-proof (or even very good) measure to identify who may "go off" and commit an atrocity like this. Identifying students who are struggling and assisting them and their families to seek services (assessment and intervention) is always important. Also, creating a community where other students feel safe expressing their concerns about peers to an adult is a positive step.
7. Reassure your child that he/she is safe. Remind your child that he/she is surrounded by people who love and care them at home and at school.
8. There is importance of being aware of what’s going on in the lives of our children. Checking backpacks, cars, cell phones, social media accounts are important responsibilities for parents.
If your child demonstrates anxiety or behavior that causes concern, reach out for assistance. Your school’s guidance counselors are available for you, as well as school administration, staff, and teachers.
The National Association of School Psychologists has developed helpful guidelines to assist parents in talking with their children about high-profile acts of violence. This document is posted on our district website at the link at the bottom of this message. Our school psychologist have also provided information and resources for parents that can be found as files below.
In closing, I want to express once again the heartfelt sorrow and grief that we all share on behalf of the victims of these recent events. Every student, parent, and community members must be a part of the solution. We implore every member of our community to speak up if they suspect for any reason that anyone is contemplating an act to attack any of our schools. Please be assured that Henderson County Schools is committed to caring for your child and keeping them safe as a precious member of our school family.
I appreciate your continued support of a safe learning environment for our students. As always, I welcome your comments and questions. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you should have any concerns.
Marganna Stanley Superintendent Henderson County Schools
Information from the National Association for School Psychologists: