Nervous parents send children back to school across Triangle

jstancill@newsobserver.comDecember 17, 2012 

  • More information Safety information for Wake parents What is a lockdown? A precautionary measure in response to a threat directly to the school or in the surrounding community. In a lockdown: • All school activities are moved indoors. • All exterior doors on campus are locked. • No one is allowed to enter or exit the building. • Parents may not come to the school during a lockdown. • Parents are also discouraged from calling the school directly. Additional calls hinder the ability of staff to keep everyone safe. How will I know if my child’s school is on lockdown? In larger emergencies, such as a Code Red lockdown or lockdowns that affect numerous schools, the Wake County school system will: • Dispatch an emergency phone message. • Update the WCPSS Facebook page, Twitter account (@wcpss) and the WCPSS home page. • Notify and update the local media as the situation develops. What can parents do to ensure that they receive proper notification? Make sure your child’s school has the most up-to-date emergency contact information. In the event of a lockdown or other emergency, school staff will use that information to get in touch with you. If you have not received a recorded phone message from your school during a lockdown, please verify your contact information with the school. Source: WAKE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Carrie Gephart waited for her 7-year-old son to emerge from a quiet Hunter Elementary in Raleigh, just like any other weekday afternoon. But something felt different about Monday.

On the first day of funerals for the tiny victims of Friday’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., parents everywhere had heavy hearts and uneasy feelings as they watched their kids board school buses. In the Triangle, school officials sent out messages, counselors opened their doors and uniformed officers showed up at schools unsolicited to calm nerves.

“It’s hard,” said Gephart. “It’s pretty terrible. It’s hard to put into words. I actually feel safe at this school, but it’s the uncertainty of everything.”

On Friday, as investigators in Connecticut processed a horrific crime scene, Gephart’s two children — one at Hunter and one at Ligon Middle School — were on “Code Yellow” lockdowns after gunshots were reported in that part of Southeast Raleigh. The lockdown ended without incident, but not before Gephart’s second-grade son, Tobin, was barred from recess and at one point was told to crouch down in the classroom.

On Monday, Stephen Gainey, interim superintendent of Wake County schools, said the system got necessary information to the district’s 169 schools about how to respond to parents and to counsel students in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy. But there was no effort to draw too much attention to school violence.

“I drove in today hoping we could have as normal a day as possible for kids,” Gainey said at a briefing with the media Monday.

He said the district heard from parents about policies on locking doors. The district has a security plan, Gainey said, and each school has its own plan based on building layout and other factors.

At Sandy Hook, the Newtown school where Friday’s shooting occurred, new safety procedures had been implemented by the principal, who lost her life. The gunman blasted through a locked door to gain entry to the school.

In Wake County, locking procedures vary by school. The rules attempt to balance access and security, Gainey said.

Police presence

The Wake system didn’t ask for stepped up patrols Monday, but law enforcement showed up anyway. Extra officers were visible at schools across the Triangle.

Heritage Elementary School’s PTA posted a thank you to Wake Forest police on Facebook.

“Some of you may have seen the detective who was out at carpool and the two officers who came by HES later in the day,” the post said. “Without being asked or called, WFPD decided to stop by local elementary schools to send some goodwill and comfort our way. And to let our staff and teachers know they are always, ALWAYS just a phone call away if they are ever needed.”

Jim Sughrue, Raleigh Police Department spokesman, said officers were asked to be a little more visible at schools on their beats. “We felt like a presence around the schools would be both beneficial and reassuring,” he said.

Principals and administrators were visible, too. In Durham, top administrators made the rounds at schools. Superintendent Eric Becoats made a robocall to parents Sunday.

“Safety is our top priority,” he said. “Please reassure your children that we all work together to keep our schools safe and secure for them.”

‘Nervous today’

Counselors were available at Triangle schools to help children and staff process the news and deal with their fears.

“It’s all about kids, but don’t discount there are some staff members out there that are very nervous today, too,” Gainey said Monday. “We have to respect that too.”

Gephart, the Hunter Elementary parent, was reassured Friday that the school took every precaution by activating the lockdown. Later, at home, the family talked about what had happened in Connecticut. Her second-grader was perhaps wise beyond his years, Gephart said.

“He said, ‘Some people are sick, Mom.’ ”

Staff writer Stacy Chandler contributed to this report.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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