Sequim schools react to Conn. shootings

by Matthew Nash
Sequim Gazette

The impact of the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., hit the nation hard last week.


As more details and stories come out, Sequim school leaders look to improve their safety plans as well. School administrators gathered early Monday to discuss strategies going forward from the Dec. 14 events.


One integral part for children is keeping things on track like a regular school day, says Superintendent Kelly Shea.


“We recognize the tragedy but otherwise we want to keep things as normal and routine as possible,” Shea said.


Other school shootings, such as the one at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, have led to national procedures for schools being put into place. Shea said staff at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown were trained in the same methods as Sequim staff.


“I just know that I was a building principal when Columbine happened and remember the fear and panic when it all happened,” he said. “I know we spent a great deal of time training and planning for this worst case scenario. I feel we have the plans in place. We continue to tweak and fix.


“The issue we struggle with is that there are so many what-if scenarios,” he said.


“It just scared the heck out of us as educators and parents,” Shea said. “Nationwide, we all go to school 180 days a year. (The recent shooting) is not comforting, but we still provide a safe place for kids.”


Russ Lodge, principal at Helen Haller Elementary, said this Monday was somber.


“There was a lot of sadness especially in an elementary school,” he said. “It was a hard day and it’s a hard day today, too (Tuesday).”


Lodge said teachers use their own discretion to discuss the incident with their classes.


“If kids wanted to talk about it, then we need to talk about it,” Lodge said. “Their routine is the best medicine for a tragic accident.”


District staff are looking for students who may be experiencing grief.


Matt Duchow, Sequim schools psychologist, said staff are instructed to keep their responses at an appropriate level so that they are responding to the needs of staff and students while at the same time trying not to increase stress levels by overreacting.


“It’s a delicate balance,” he said. “We were advised to listen to kids, discuss events, if kids brought them up, at a developmental level. Teachers are to refer students to the building counselors should they need that service.


“Counselors in our district are always ready to meet such needs,” he said.


“If the crisis is more local, we have a district crisis response plan that is implemented which includes bringing in a crisis response team to help with counseling services for students and staff.”

Safety levels

One ongoing issue the school district faces is the inability to completely lock down some campuses.


When asked if the district could do anything different at open campuses such as Helen Haller and Sequim High School, Shea said the campuses are what they are unless the community votes to build a new school.


Lodge said discussions are ongoing to find ways to increase safety at Helen Haller in the meantime.


Some options for Helen Haller Elementary include teachers locking their doors, always directing parents to the office first, adding fencing to prevent access to the inner courtyard, wearing ID badges and using the intercom system more often.


Shea said during the school day, schools are going to keep exterior doors locked except for the front doors.


At the high school, Shea said from his experience, he’s needed to knock in order to enter classrooms because they’ve kept them locked.


As a safety precaution, Greywolf Elementary added cameras to its two entryways in 2002.


“When these events happen, we are consistently reflecting upon improvements to be made,” Shea said.
Districtwide, each school must perform four lockdown drills throughout the year.

Advanced system at Greywolf

Greywolf Elementary School in Carlsborg added 11 security cameras in 2002 and was linked to the Clallam Responder System and wireless video system that some called the first of its kind. The cameras are linked to a system that allows sheriff’s deputies, police officers and other law enforcement access to see inside the school during an emergency.


Soon after testing the system in April 2003, then Clallam County sheriff Joe Hawe said the move to add cameras at Greywolf came in part as a reaction to the deadly school shooting in Columbine, Colo., in 1999.


“After Columbine, we started looking for a software package that could help correct the mistakes made” during the police response, Hawe said.


“There was non-preparedness outside and inside. That was a serious eye-opener.”


Sequim High School added security cameras in 2006.

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