Flags around the state have been lowered to half staff in remembrance of the 27 victims killed during Friday's school shooting in Connecticut -- 20 of them children. After being inundated by images from Friday, it's easy to forget that statistically kids are safest while at school.
"We need to take every step that we can to keep safety paramount in our minds," said Burlington Superintendent Jeanne Collins.
For the state's largest school district that means reviewing its safety plan. Superintendent Collins said decades ago Burlington's schools were not built to keep people out and tragedies like Sandy Hook have the district contemplating changes. "Teachers in a classroom should be able to lock their door from the inside and not have to step out in the hall to lock it. If I had my way, we would be able to lock down a building with the push of a button," Collins said.
By law Vermont schools are required to have a safety plan and it must be practiced once a month. But it's up to the individual districts to write those policies.
"The most important thing is that they involve the public response community. That they don't make plans on their own," said Stephen Earley, who heads the state's School Crisis Planning Team, an organization that helps districts create emergency plans for a variety of situations from haz mat spills and bomb threats, to active shooter scenarios. "If you practice those plans you're preparing your students and staff to be as safe and as far from harm's way as possible," he said.
In an active shooter crisis like Sandy Hook, Vermont teachers are trained to clear hallways, lock doors, turn off lights and hide students. Lockdown drills help everyone prepare and experts say schools that are only doing fire drills are falling short. "You've got to come to the reality of what this is like now -- it's not where it's going to happen, it's when. It can be anywhere," Earley said.
But even the most comprehensive safety measures are not a sure fire solution. A locked down school is not impenetrable. "Buzzer systems can be useful and can also be a sense of false security. It's people who are really needed to make the building safe," Jeanne Collins said.
Dedicated personnel and practiced plans -- in the end -- is the combination experts said will ultimately saves lives.
The crisis team said it's important that parents are included in school safety planning. Experts recommend open communication and that parents should be familiar with the school's policy, emergency alert system and evacuation locations.
Numbers to the HowardCenter to find help for kids showing signs of trouble:
For kids under 18 -- HowardCenter First Call -- 802-488-7777
For young people over 18 -- HowardCenter Mobile Crisis -- 802-488-6400
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