Don't be alarmed if you see police cars at local schools today. They're not responding to an emergency. There will be police at every school in the East Lyme and Lyme-Old Lyme School district throughout the week as a precautionary measure.
"We will have an East Lyme police presence at all of our schools throughout the week to provide an added sense of security," said East Lyme School Superintendent James Lombardo.
Visitors to schools in East Lyme will see other changes which have been initiated in response to the tragic and inexplicable school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Friday.
"Beginning [Monday] we will be instituting our security electronic systems in all our schools," said Lombardo. "Any visitors will need to buzz into the schools and be buzzed in before they’re allowed entry."
In the Lyme-Old Lyme School District, only the high school currently has an electronic security system in place. However, on December 5 the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education voted to approve the purchase and installation of visitor access control systems. These include video monitoring, locked entry doors and electronic buzzer systems.
"We expect installation in all of our buildings in the coming weeks," wrote Lyme-Old Lyme School Superintendent Ian Neviaser in a letter to parents posted on the school district's web site.
The school districts of East Lyme and Lyme-Old Lyme already have security response policies in place which are regularly practiced with lock-down and evacuation drills. Safety protocols will be reviewed in light of what happened in Sandy Hook, however, to make sure all the bases are covered.
Helping Students Cope
East Lyme teachers and staff will begin the day with a pre-school meeting to discuss the best way to handle questions that students may have about the shooting and its aftermath. Lombardo said that school counselors met after school on Friday to talk about age-appropriate responses to questions and the best ways to help students cope with the tragedy.
"We have decided to not talk with whole classes unless it has been determined that they are aware of the situation. We will however, be prepared to speak with any individual student or groups of students who begin to discuss the tragedy. They will be asked what they already know, how they feel, assure them of their safety at home and at school and get them back to their routine as soon as possible," Niantic Center School Principal Melissa DeLoreto wrote in an email to parents last night.
The Lyme-Old Lyme School District held a similar meeting that also included the Lymes' Youth Service Bureau. Experts say it's important to get back to a regular routine because there is comfort in structure, so the schools will focus on the standard curriculum today. However, Neviaser wrote, "teachers are prepared to respond to student questions regarding this event and will only engage in discussions that are age appropriate."
Students who need greater assistance will receive it on an individual basis, Neviaser said, but school-based crisis teams will be available to students, staff, and parents to respond to questions or concerns. Parents who have concerns should call the central office of their child's school to be connected to crisis team members.
Both the school districts emailed parents on Friday with advice on age-appropriate responses to questions and ways to help their children process what happened from the National Association of School Psychologists.
"I also share with you information I received from a colleague that has been passed on to the staff at all of our schools," Neviaser wrote. “Encourage young people to take meaningful action. This includes, but is not limited to, making a donation, going to a community meeting, writing letters to, or drawing pictures for, first responders thanking them for their caring, or writing to public officials asking them to take steps to prevent such tragedies from happening again. Taking action often helps overcome a feeling of helplessness.”
In the aftermath of the tragedy, many people have expressed a desire to help in some way and the East Lyme School district is no exception.
"We’re also going to be doing a fundraiser for the public schools of Newtown," said Lombardo. Staff, students, and parents who would like to make a donation can do so at the East Lyme School District's Central Office. The money will be donated to the public schools of Newtown "to use as they see fit," Lombardo said.
The Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education, school administration, the Resident Trooper’s office, and the town leadership from both Lyme and Old Lyme are planning a special meeting for December 19 to discuss the impact of the tragedy on Lyme-Old Lyme Schools. The meeting will be held at the Lyme-Old Lyme High School Auditorium at 6:30 p.m.