The following is from the Pleasantville Union Free School District Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter:
Dear Parents and Community Members,
I know that yesterday’s horrific event in Newtown has left many of us shaken, upset and searching for answers. We deeply mourn for those who have lost a child, a sister, a brother, a mom, a daughter….a friend. I have no language for this – it’s unfathomable.
Please be assured that the district’s staff and our community partners understand the concern our families have regarding safety. We also know that many of you are questioning how to talk about this tragedy with their children – particularly the very young. In answer to those concerns, allow me to share the following.
Chief Love and I have been in direct and regular contact. On Monday, he will be present at BRS and he will have officers at all 3 schools. Our Board of Education Trustees will also be present at all 3 schools. Our counseling staff is ready to address any and all questions. Teachers will be given directives by each school’s administration before students arrive on Monday.
The district’s safety plan is comprehensive and was developed with input from the Police and Fire departments. Included in the plan are “lock down” and “lock out” procedures. The plan is reviewed each year. In addition to review by the police and fire departments, input is given by the village, our nurses, facilities director, a parent representative and all administrators. After the review, “table top” exercises that include a simulated drill are performed in each school. Our police department joins us as we walk each school and examine every door, hallway, office and large areas. We also analyze how the staff and students perform. Recommendations are made and discussed. Information is shared with all faculties. Our plan also includes a section on evacuating a building. In the event it becomes necessary to evacuate one or more buildings while school is in session, our safety plan identifies alternative sites throughout the Village of Pleasantville. For security reasons, we cannot divulge these sites. Again, I thank our police department for their help and regular assistance.
While we do know that an event like this is rare and schools are one of the safest places for children during the school day, it does demonstrate that no school, regardless of the community is immune from acts of violence. However, as reminded by the National Association of School Psychologists, schools are an "important place for children to receive support and return to normalcy." NASP also shares that “communication and collaboration among schools, parents, and communities is critical to ensure that our students continue to view schools as safe, caring, and supportive environments. Further, how adults react to this tragedy can shape the way children and youth react and their perceptions of safety.”
In Pleasantville our teachers and staff will reinforce students’ sense of safety by continuing to make classrooms predictable and welcoming. We support NASP advice - families are encouraged to spend time together, validate children’s feelings, ask for help as needed, and find calm and relaxing activities to do at home. Please limit children’s exposure to media coverage, particularly for young children. If they do see coverage, parents need to be available to discuss it with them. It’s also ok to say that you don’t know why this very bad event happened and that you are saddened by it.
NASP reminds us that “families and educators are on the frontline of helping children understand and cope with this violence and loss of life. Most children and youth are resilient and will cope well with the support and caring of their families, teachers, friends, and other caring adults. However, young children may have particular difficulty understanding and describing their feelings and emotions.” Please review the following tips from NASP.
- Provide a developmentally appropriate, clear, and straightforward explanation of the event.
- Return to normalcy and routine to the best extent possible while maintaining flexibility.
- Let children know it’s okay to feel upset or angry.
- Be a good listener and observer.
- Provide various ways for children to express emotion, either through journaling, writing letters, talking, making a collage or music.
- Focus on resiliency as well as the compassion of others
I know that you join me in extending our deepest sympathies and prayers for the victims of this terrible tragedy. Please continue to communicate with the leadership and counseling teams of each school. MFA