EASD addresses safety in wake of national tragedy Several steps already being reinforced at EHS
By: GARY P. KLINGER Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
Following the horror of the school shooting last week in Connecticut, which left 20 elementary students and six staff members dead, Ephrata Area School District officials responded to local concerns about safety.
District Superintendent Dr. Gerald Rosati addressed members of the school board Monday night, expressing the deep sorrow the district shared with the rest of those across the country left reeling from Friday’s tragic events.
"I know how deeply saddened everyone is over the tragedy," said a somber-faced Rosati. "I want the community to know and I’m here to remind you that we have a comprehensive safety plan in place for the district. We do have safety plans and a safety committee to evaluate and re-evaluate our campuses, to train staff and to minimize the risk."
Rosati added how important it was for parents and students to recognize the district does not work alone. He acknowledged the excellent relationship the district has enjoyed with local law enforcement officials.
"It is important for people to know we don’t work alone," commented Rosati. "We are fortunate to have (School Resource) Officer (Pete) Sheppard help us. We have an excellent working relationship with the police and with the county ‘s emergency response team."
In the coming weeks and months, Rosati said efforts would be on-going to assure that district safety plans have been re-evaluated and re-enforced with everyone from staff on down through the students.
"It’s sad that it takes a tragedy," commented Rosati. "But it is important to understand that we (already) look at safety every day. As your lead administrator, I assure you that we will do what we can to keep every individual safe and to do our absolute best."
Officer Sheppard was on hand to add to Rosati’s comments.
"We are constantly in a state of re-evaluation," noted Sheppard. "We have all the doors locked. We actively screen all our visitors. We will continue to do all we can to keep everyone safe."
With regard to the locked doors at the high school, Principal Joane Eby confirmed Tuesday that there is not a new policy but one that is being reinforced at this time.
"This is probably the first time the students heard of the door item," Eby said in an e-mail. "Ever since I have been here I have asked the teachers to keep their doors in locked positions as a security measure. As is human nature from time to time we get lax on such things and this brought the concern back to the forefront."
Eby explained that the classroom doors only lock from the outside (hallway) and thus, in the event of a major problem, the teacher would have to step out into the hallway to lock the door –putting themselves in danger and wasting time.
"By having doors always in the locked position, even if they are open, it takes only a quick closing of the door to keep the class as safe as possible in such a circumstance," Eby said.
She also shared with the paper, what she had read to the student body when they came back Monday morning.
In it, she reached out to the students and asked for their assistance in addressing the safety of their school.
"There will be many political arguments and discussions that take place and many questions regarding national and state policies and laws. I ask, however, that we look to ourselves to find ways to increase our daily security," Eby told the students.
She reminded them it begins with the basics such as bullying and harassment having no place in the school.
"Let us know if you feel unsafe; if you see others mistreated. This is not snitching, this is keeping your friends safe," she said.
The reminder about the doors was also part of her talk, as was a reminder about the doors to the outside of the building.
"As difficult as it is, do not let students/adults in when they buzz at the doors," Eby said. "The attendance office has the ability to release the door upon identification of the individual. I realize this is very difficult and may seem even silly; however, it is an important piece. Do not be irritated by your friends if they walk by the door as you wait; that is what they should do. And do not at any time prop open outside doors. This is an invitation to a great many problems."
She went on to talk about the debates the country will have about what leads to a day such as Friday but again brought it back to this school.
"This society is your future; how do we make it safe? What services are needed in our schools to address the pain that seems to be growing in our hearts?," Eby said.
She invited students to e-mail her their thoughts and even suggested perhaps a Principal’s Blog is needed. She also reminded them that counselors were available if students needed them.
"Take care of each other, we are all our biggest protection," Eby concluded.
Eby said she received many positive comments from students and staff following the statement and remains in discussions regarding staff with various school groups.
"It is indeed a difficult time for everyone, but when you realize we work daily with nearly 1,300 kids, the cohesiveness of the building is sometimes pretty amazingly wonderful," Eby said. "Security, or lack thereof, is a constant hum in the back of an administrator’s mind. I welcome any further ideas one may have as to how to improve the security for our school, and thus our students and staff."
Rosati told the school board that while the district is constantly vigilant with regard to safety, it is precisely at this point in the year where district officials begin to evaluate capital projects for the coming school year. He said that the district had received numerous excellent suggestions from parents which will be closely considered along with internal evaluations of school security, leaving open the possibility that additional capital projects could be dedicated to making security tighter still.
According to Rosati, a dedicated staff of district officials was in communication throughout the entire weekend in preparation for the opening of school on Monday. He said he wanted to be sure all possible resources were in place and that all possible measures be taken not only to care for safety concerns, but to also provide students with a "normal" a school day as possible.
Assistant District Superintendent Mrs. Kim Schlemmer also commented on district efforts.
"Officer Sheppard was able to visit each building today," said Schlemmer. "We were able to walk through each building with office staff and review how to deal with guests and visitors."
Schlemmer added that while the district does have a district-wide safety plan, it is also important to review safety precautions specific to each building.
"I’m truly impressed that all principals reported back that the mood in each building and things in general were about as normal as possible throughout the day," added Schlemmer. "With such an event, it gives the opportunity to improve and enhance an already solid plan."
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brian Troop weighed in on ripple effects the tragedy and the toll it took on teachers and administrators.
"Whenever something like this happens we react to the personal side of things first," said Troop. "As administrators, teachers, bus drivers, we were not ready to come back and do that this morning. But our selfless teachers and administrators knew they had to set the tone so that our students would know it was still a safe learning environment."
Troop explained the difficult yet important role each teacher and administrator played in maintaining a calm, safe tone to the learning environment, putting aside for the day, the personal grief and issues the rest of the nation found themselves dealing with. He said every effort was made to make Monday as routine a day as possible with professionalism and by really caring for the students as much as possible.
"I want to express my gratitude to our staff and administrators," commented board president Timothy Stayer. "My heart sank as a parent. I wondered how we would deal with this as board members if this happened in Ephrata. It is a sad state of affairs that this happens in our country. Thank you for all you have done. I know it was a most difficult weekend."
Board member Glenn R. Martin said he appreciated that the district is on top of this issue.
"I appreciate that you updated us on how we deal with emergency situations," commented Martin. "It is good to hear how we comfort and console our students and parents. I understand we can protect them as we can, but we also know full well some of what happened is very difficult to protect from."
A written statement was issued by Dr. Rosati and can be found on the district’s website at easdpa.org. Gary P. Klinger welcomes comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. More TRAGEDY, page A6