Cape, Jackson administrators discuss security in wake of Conn. shootings

Sunday, December 16, 2012
Mourners gather for a vigil service for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, at the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, Conn. Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. A man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire Friday inside the elementary school where she taught, massacring 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in fear to the sound of gunshots reverberating through the building and screams echoing over the intercom (AP Photo/Andrew Gombert, Pool)

Questions that can fly through one's mind upon hearing of a tragedy such as the one that occurred Friday in an elementary school in a quiet New England suburbs are endless.

"Is my child safe at school?" asks a parent.

"Will that happen in my class?" students ask.

"What would I do to protect my students?" wonders a teacher.

"Does our building have enough safety measures in place?" mulls a school administrator.

While details of the mass shooting that took place inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday morning are not yet known, children and their parents described teachers locking doors and ordering children to huddle in the corner or hide in cabinets and closets when shots echoed throughout the building. Twenty-six people died at the hands of a gunman, including 20 children. The massacre claimed the lives of the most young students of any school shooting in the nation's history.

School administrators in Southeast Missouri on Friday expressed horror at the news and offered condolences.

"It's almost unthinkable that someone would do that," said Jim Welker, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District. "It's so sad to hear that this has happened."

It was a sad time for administrators, although they might not have approached students in their schools about the Sandy Hook tragedy.

"I had contemplated making information about the incident known," said Mike Cowan, principal at Cape Girardeau Central High School. "But there was a lot of misinformation in the reports that were coming out. The last thing I wanted to do was create any undue confusion. Also, it would've been hard to stop our normal work routine to try and talk to all of the students. The students have semester exams coming up in a couple of days, and I certainly didn't want to make things any tougher for them."

Administrators provided details about security and safety measures in place in local schools.

Neil Glass, director of administrative services in the Cape Girardeau district, said security items in all the district's buildings include cameras covering campuses that are monitored by office staff and locked double-door vestabules that can only be entered with keycards at the front of buildings. All other doors also are equipped with special locks, Glass said. Alarms sound to alert staff if anyone leaves or attempts to enter a building without using the technology. Passage of a bond issue in April 2010 allowed the district to make recent upgrades to security, Glass said. The district also employs three school resource officers who patrol all campuses.

In the Jackson School District, the setup is similar, according to chief financial officer Wade Bartels, who oversees safety and security. Safety plans are in place and are reviewed on a regular basis, he said.

Lockdown drills are conducted in all buildings throughout the year, and for the last two years, the district has brought in intruder defense training for all staff. The district used a private company for the training, but it aligns with a method taught in other area schools by three certified instructors based at Southeast Missouri State University.

The university's department of public safety began offering a training program known as ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lock down, Information, Counter and Evacuation, in 2009.

Lt. Kenny Mayberry leads the training courses, which he and department director Doug Richards said Friday have been in high demand recently.

Mayberry said tactics taught to course participants are meant to teach someone how to counter a person who may be threatening them or the people for whom they are responsible. A difference taught in the training as opposed to traditional "lockdown" training, which once was thought to be most effective, is that ALICE teaches people to get out of a situation and dangerous place as quickly as possible.

"What this does is give people like teachers more tools in their toolbox so they can be prepared," Mayberry said.

Staff in the Cape Girardeau School District have had the training, according to Glass.

The training is available free of charge to schools and other community organizations as the department's resources allow, Richards said.

"This is a life-saving training we can provide," he said. "We want to make sure anyone who needs it can get it."

School districts also offer crisis management, particularly services available through a guidance counselor, for students who may have questions or need to share feelings about a tragic situation, according to local administrators.

Staff writer Keith Lewis contributed to this report.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

601 East Adams St., Jackson, MO

One University Plaza, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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