Summit School District reached out to parents and students after Florida shooting, assuring student safety and urging communication | SummitDaily.com

Summit School District reached out to parents and students after Florida shooting, assuring student safety and urging communication

Deepan Dutta ddutta@summitdaily.com

The Valentine's Day high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, left 17 dead, including 14 students. In the wake of the tragedy, Summit School District is asking parents to communicate with their children to assure them of their safety and comfort them during this time.

The district sent out a letter to parents Monday expressing the administration's condolences to Parkland's victims, as well as assuring parents of the district's safety protocols. The letter urged parents to talk to their children in order to comfort them and help spot warning signs of violence. The letter also attached guidance from the Colorado School Safety Resource Center on how to talk to children about school shootings.

"Whenever there is an event like this in a school, we all feel the impact because we are working with kids every day," said district spokeswoman Julie McCluskie. "The idea of something so violent and so tragic hits us all in the education community."

The Parkland massacre is the third-deadliest school shooting in American history. It occurred amidst an already raging national debate about gun violence, mere months after 58 concertgoers were gunned down in Las Vegas and 25 churchgoers were killed in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

McCluskie said the district is cognizant of the trauma and stress students and parents might be feeling after a school shooting. She said that talking to kids about their concerns is a productive and meaningful way to help them cope with their own feelings on the tragedy. Guidance literature from the Colorado School Safety Resource Center advises parents to not only talk to their kids, but to listen to them and follow up to make sure they're doing OK.

"I think this is a good moment for all of us to pause, to reach out to our families, to let our students know that we are very committed to their safety," McCluskie said, adding that talking to kids about something this tragic does not need to be complicated or difficult. "Sometimes it's just being receptive, or knowing how to respond if your child is upset."

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As far as safeguards against school shootings here in Summit, the district letter included a list of security measures already in place in school buildings. Those measures include perimeter safety with locked vestibules and doors, lockdown and evacuation procedures, as well as communication strategies with law enforcement and parents.

Superintendent Kerry Buhler added that the district has armed school resource officers who provide an active layer of security.

"We have increased the number of our school resource officers, including a full-time resource officer at the high school and a near full-time resource officer at the middle school," Buhler said, adding that the district partners with the Summit County Sheriff's Department to provide resource officers. "Not only are resource officers here to provide security, but they are on our campuses to make connections with our kids and their families, to provide that safe and secure feeling all of the time."

Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said that his department understands that school shootings can unnerve a community and is acting accordingly. "We're stepping up presence at schools," he said, "and we're working with staff and resource officers to provide assurance and comfort to the students."

In its letter, the district welcomed parents and students to approach staff and teachers with questions about safety, while urging the community to keep eyes and ears open for warning signs of potential violence. McCluskie said that the effort to protect students starts well outside the schoolhouse gates.

"Protecting our kids is a partnership, with school districts, with families, with community members. We all need to work together to keep our schools safe."