Along with the rest of the American educational community, we are shocked at the horrific crime and tragic loss of life last Friday in an elementary school in Connecticut. The senselessness of the act and the circumstances in which it occurred make it incomprehensible. Our hearts go out to the victims and our prayers to their families to find healing and solace.
When something of this magnitude occurs, after absorbing the facts and feeling the pain of fellow human beings, our thoughts turn to the impact such an event has on our children, and what if, G-d forbid, such a dangerous situation should arise in our school or community.
Throughout this week, our teachers have kept their eyes and ears open to pick up any notes of distress or concern on the part of our children. Baruch Hashem, there was seemingly minimal fallout among the elementary and early childhood students but where necessary, teachers and Mrs. Marlowe, our school counselor, responded with appropriate forthrightness and reassurance. If your children are sharing some distress with you, you do need to listen and respond utilizing the same guidelines we presented merely a few weeks ago at the height of Operation Pillar of Defense in Eretz Yisrael, which itself came only two weeks after Hurricane Sandy.
- Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Children gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school
- Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress.
- Be honest with children and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle
- Limit exposure to television and the news. Images make a deep impact, continuous exposure can be harmful.
- Listen to the children’s fears and concerns. Listening and really understanding what the child’s concerns are is more important than simply talking. If it’s not clear what is underlying the child’s question(s), ask “What made you think of that?”
- Reassure children that Hashem runs the world, and that everything that happens, is for the best.
- Point out that the world is a good place, but that there are people who do bad things.
- Reassure them that they are safe, surrounded by loving adults at home and in school who keep them safe from harm.
Our second responsibility is to take all reasonable precautions to avoid such a circumstance from arising in our school. I want to reassure you that security concerns have been a major priority at Toras Emes for the past many years, and the security of our campus has been greatly enhanced in the recent past.
- Access to our campus is through locked gates. Pass cards, entry codes or buzzing in by intercom are the only means of access during the school day.
- There are surveillance cameras throughout the campus, monitored in each of the offices. Our security officer walks the entire campus several times a day to monitor the entire area.
- Administrators, maintenance, and P.E. personnel are equipped with walkie-talkies throughout the day keeping them in contact with each other and the offices. Any report of suspicious persons or activity is investigated immediately by our security officer.
- We conduct evacuation drills regularly – our response time is excellent.
- Written lockdown procedures have been in place for years.
When it comes to security, there is always more that can be done. We are taking further measures now, in light of the events, and greater levels of security are built in to the campus redesign plans, taking place along with the construction of the new classroom building.
- Lockdown drills will be conducted periodically
- Lockdown procedures are being enhanced, additional training of staff will take place shortly and additional locks/hardware are being installed to further secure doors during a lockdown.
- Visual exposure of the boys’ playground will be eliminated through the planting of bushes along the fences.
Looking ahead to enhancements that the redesigned campus will bring:
- Carpools will take place on campus, greatly reducing exposure to passing cars and people.
- There will be access to the buildings from one point only. Two layers of security will separate outsiders from the children. This includes when the children are outside at recess. (Girls and ECE)
- Additional and improved surveillance cameras will be installed.
Parents play a key role in security by cooperating with school procedures to always report to the office when visiting, by not sending an unknown (to the school) relative, friend or neighbor to pick up a child without informing the school, following staff instructions during carpool and parking in designated areas only, when visiting the school.
The safety and security of our children is paramount. Nevertheless, that requires balancing with the need to create and maintain a joyous, comfortable and beautiful learning and playing environment for students and staff alike. We appreciate your support, cooperation and input as we continuously work on enhancing the security of our campus.
May Hashem protect us, our children and our world.
Best wishes for a reassuring, comforting Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann