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Schools taking extra steps to ensure safety

2 vigils planned for Friday

POSTED: December 17, 2012 11:30 p.m.

Hall County and Gainesville school systems are taking extra steps to ensure the safety of students and staff after the tragic shooting Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“There’s nothing we take more seriously than the safety of our boys and girls,” said Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County Schools. “We always ask what it is we need to do to keep our youngsters safe.”

The morning after the shooting, Schofield asked schools to take a look at their safety plans and report back to him with any recommended improvements. Students in the system are already out for the holidays.

While schools are always looking for enhancements in security, Schofield admitted “we’ve got to take it up another notch in this world today.”

“Our world changed again Friday when this happened,” he said. “What happened in Connecticut is just a vivid reminder of the evil in the world, and we’ve got to balance our freedom with our obligations.”

In addition to a review of current safety plans, Hall County elementary schools are enforcing limited access restrictions for all on-site visitors. A designated safety coordinator is also on hand at every school building.

Gainesville schools practice procedures similar to those in Hall, according to Merrianne Dyer, superintendent of Gainesville City Schools.

School safety plans are reviewed every year in August, and school safety coordinators at every city school also meet four times a year and discuss ways to improve current practices.

“When something like this happens, you review your plan in light of that tragedy. Is there anything we can learn from this?” Dyer said. “There is no textbook situation, so we are reviewing through those lenses.”

To calm heightened fears, Dyer mentioned schools would be reducing the number of drop-in visitors who are allowed into classrooms during the day while continuing to closely monitor those who do visit.

“We’re going to make an effort to lower the anxiety of the children, teachers and parents. This tragedy extends to them, and they need to know who’s in the building,” said Dyer.

Officers from the Gainesville Police Department on Monday morning visited Gainesville schools, which are in session until Friday, to help answer questions on safety procedures and to serve as a reassuring presence.

“After something like this happens, there’s always the chance of a copycat or someone just saying they’re going to do something, and (police) presence reduced the risk of a copycat occurrence,” Dyer said.

While there is no way to ever completely eliminate the chances of a tragedy like Newtown’s from happening again, Dyer said, schools must be active in helping those who may have a motive to try.

“When children we teach or former children we taught are isolated, or are alone, it’s hard to know who should intervene. But we need to do that. We need to show them we care, and there’s so many ways to reach out now. We need to do that,” said Dyer.

The systems are planning a combined candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting for 5:30 p.m. Friday at Gardens on Green, 711 Green St., Gainesville.

The town of Clermont also has planned a vigil for 7 p.m. Friday at Clay E. Gailey Park.


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