In the wake of a school shooting that has taken the lives of 26 people including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, North Fork school officials are revisiting their own security procedures and are taking the tragedy as a reminder of how important those procedures are.
Mattituck High School Principal Shawn Petretti said that though the massacre is an incomparable horror, his staff and students experienced the fear of the unknown during a 2009 lockdown after a man living in a house neighboring the school shot off a rifle outside of his home, causing a bullet to break through an open classroom window and graze the head of a female senior student.
That student suffered only minor injuries and was back in school the next day, but the incident still haunts Petretti and staff members.
“What that incident did was remind us that, every time we run these drills, everyone understands that these things can really happen,” he said Friday afternoon. “Our incident was more of a freak thing — nothing like what happened today — but at the time, we really didn’t know. But due to training, we had lockdown plans in place and went right away to action and thankfully no one else was hurt. I look at school security and running drills through a different lens now, because we lived it.”
Newtown Patch is reporting that the gunman who rampaged through the Sandy Hook Elementary School was armed with four guns including a high-powered rifle and is believed to have shot and killed up to 30 people including 18 children. Investigators have identified the gunman “as a man in his 20s from Connecticut and are searching his father’s home in New Jersey,” according to WABC Channel 7. Connecticut State Police spokesman Lt. Paul Vance said the gunman was found dead inside the school.
Read ongoing updates on the school shooting on Newtown Patch here.
Petretti said that Mattituck High School continues a very rigorous and detailed security plan for all types of scenarios and that Friday’s tragedy has made staff remember and reexamine the importance of those plans.
“We go so far as running fire drills between periods, and I can tell you that we can account for every kid in the building in about 10 minutes,” he said. “But without putting the building behind concrete walls, any school is suspect to the evils that are out there.”
Greenport School Principal Len Skuggevik said that reminders of emergency lockdown and evacuation drill procedures were sent out digitally on Friday to staff members, and that the school was on alert after the news from Connecticut broke.
“This is obviously an absolute tragedy, we are all sickened by news, and our hearts go out to family, friends and the entire community,” he said. “We are reminded today of our own very clear and precise procedures — which we hope we will never have to use.”
Skuggevik added that all doors of the school are locked and that everyone has to enter and exit through the front doors, which are monitored all day to ensure the safety of Greenport students.
In school district Superintendent David Gamberg said that he and his staff also revisited their own emergency procedures after hearing of the tragedy on Friday, and the school can request extra police presence at anytime.
“If we feel that anything warrants special attention, we’re in touch with the police department and they will be here as a reminder and to heighten awareness of security,” he said. “Schools have to be diligent and proactive with these kinds of things.”
Gamberg added that he and staff members met Friday afternoon to discuss how they will address the Newtown tragedy and the importance of their own school’s security in the classroom next week as children try to understand what happened.
“We need to be remindful but also be careful to not overdramatize the importance of security, especially for the younger children in the elementary school,” he said. “We don’t want to scare them, but they need to remember how important it is to pay close attention to adult supervision. The reason we ask them to be quiet during a drill is because we want to keep them as safe as possible.”
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