Schools React to Tragedy


By Justin Swanson | LB Indy


In the most visible local reaction to the Sandy Hook school murders, mother and Laguna Beach shopkeeper Amii Schenk and her friends invite the public to join them for a 4:30 p.m. vigil on Saturday, Dec. 22 at Main Beach, honoring, remembering, and sending spiritual energy to the Connecticut town’s victims and survivors.

Schenk said she contrived the loose ceremony with the help of friends out of a feeling of helplessness and because of her own belief in the power of prayer.

The vigil is expected to last an hour and will be led by the Little Church By the Sea’s pastor. Children will be welcome and present, so Schenk asks for discretion on the part of participants. Signs with the names of victims will be held and hung on a Christmas tree, she said.

Even as the carnage in Connecticut sparked calls for gun control and mental health reforms, Laguna school officials reset their discourse around safety in local schools.

In an email sent Monday, Dec. 17, Supt. Sherine Smith reminded parents that safety remains administrators’ first priority. In the letter, she urged the differentiation between the possibility and the probability of “something bad” happening at schools.

Meanwhile the Newport-Mesa school board called a special meeting this week to discuss school safety with input from the chiefs of police in both Newport and Costa Mesa. During the meeting, the possibility of arming teachers was discussed based on the time it would take police to respond to a shooting event. Additionally, there was the proposition of creating classroom doors that can lock from the inside and coinciding panic buttons in classrooms.

“Whenever something like this occurs, we take a step back and use it as a lens for our procedures,” said Laguna’s district spokesman Gerald Vlasic, adding that similar mass shooting incidents take weeks to fully analyze. Any new procedures that emerge from the Sandy Hook massacre most likely will come in the new year, he said

A third party company recently evaluated district schools for safety, said Vlasic.

Laguna schools, he says, practice safety drills on a monthly, sometimes bi-monthly, basis. Lockdown and evacuation procedures are demonstrated and reunification sites for parents and students are pre-identified, though Vlasic declined to disclose the locations, ensuring their security.

“They are able to be in buses and on their way within six minutes of hearing the bell,” said Kathleen Fay, president of the high school P.T.A. and vice president of the P.T.A. council.

Fay also sent an email to high school parents on Wednesday, Dec. 19, offering a reminder of P.T.A. resources available to parents and students, including counseling services and strategies to help children cope.

“I appreciate the response from the district,” Fay said, “and I think most parents are reassured of safety.”

Many parents nevertheless called district offices with questions and asking for clarification about school policies and safety plans, said Vlasic, though he could not say how many calls were received.

Laguna’s teachers were advised by administrators to allow dialogue on the topic as the students felt comfortable, but no formal plans were made to discuss the Sandy Hook shootings, Vlasic said.

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