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West Seattle High School (top) and Chief Sealth International High School (bottom) have altered their security measures for the school campuses in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut.

In aftermath of Sandy Hook tragedy, West Seattle high schools take safety measures

The unthinkable occurred 3,000 miles away from West Seattle on Dec. 14, when authorities say a troubled young man entered a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and killed 26 people, including 20 children from six to seven years old, before taking his own life.

The shock has been felt across the nation, including with West Seattle school administrators taking a step back to reevaluate their safety protocols in the aftermath, should the unthinkable ever happen again.

West Seattle High School Principal Ruth Medsker announced that “starting Monday, December 17, we are limiting access. All doors except the doors in the west courtyard will remain locked. Staff, students and all visitors must enter through those doors. Any visitor must go directly to the main office and sign in. Visitors must wear a badge, and placement must be visible. Visitor policy is not new, but will continue to be enforced by all staff.”

Medsker’s assistant Karen Ross said the single door policy will be a permanent change.

At Chief Sealth International High School, Principal Chris Kinsey decided to “close” their campus from Dec. 17 to Dec. 21 (when the kids are let out for winter break).

“Closing” the campus refers to “discouraging students from leaving campus during the day and at lunch,” Kinsey said, “in part because of what happened on Friday (the shooting in Connecticut), but also because we wanted to put a little more structure in place as we near winter break.”

Kinsey said his first reaction to news of the tragedy was “sadness that this thing could happen,” followed quickly by a mobilization of his administrative and security staff to review their security policies and ensure their staff was up to speed.

He said his staff is also closely monitoring students to see if any of them could use additional support from the counseling office in mentally processing the tragedy.

District wide, Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said they have not enforced any new policies at this time, leaving it up to school-specific principals.

“We don’t have a district-wide policy about what the principal should do,” Wippel said “We do recommend that every school, regardless of whether it is elementary or secondary, have a single point of entry but it is up to the building administrators to decide what works best for their particular building and school community”

“There are some schools where it is a little more complex,” Wippel said, mentioning schools with widespread layouts where a single point of entry would make it difficult for kids to get to class on time.

“Our principals really do have a good feel for their schools and buildings,” she added.

Wippel said Seattle Public Schools has “rigorous training” in effect for all institutions, where students and staff take part in monthly lockdown and natural disaster drills, “With the idea that if something awful did happen, people would know what the process would be.”

There have been citywide changes in communication and security visibility.

A district announcement states, “In light of the tragedy that occurred on Friday in Connecticut, our security staff has increased its level of vigilance by checking in with schools more frequently. At the same time, school staff, principals and teachers are closely monitoring halls and visitors to building.”

Seattle police increased their patrols around schools after the shooting, and SPS said their security staff will meet with each principal in the coming weeks “to talk about safety plans and emergency needs.”

While SPS has no plans to hire additional security staff or institute new policies at this time, they are reviewing their policies and will be receptive to recommendations from the Department of Education and law enforcement, according to a press release.

As the nation processes the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy and debates gun control, help for the mentally ill and school security in the coming months, SPS recommends parents take the time to talk with their children about what happened.

The Childhood Development Institute released a guide on how to talk with students and children about the shooting and recommended, in part, being truthful about what happened (sans the gory details), encouraging any questions children might have, ensuring them that emotions are normal and encouraging them to talk about those feelings, staying close, and being watchful for behavioral changes.

To read the full guide, please click here.

“There’s no clear cut way to deal with something of this magnitude – especially when many of us cannot help but have such visceral reactions to something so senseless and so terrible,” Samantha Escobar recently wrote for Blisstree, an online news source. “Nevertheless, helping children who may not quite understand what is going on, but know they are afraid, can help prevent psychological stress on their minds, and protecting those is so desperately important in times like these.”

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