“It’s too important for us to be anything but clear and speak with clarity with respect to safety of the children."
— Dr. Joe Petrone, Moffat County School District superintendent, about community meetings regarding students safety in school
The unthinkable became a nightmarish reality last week in Newtown, Conn., when a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School, releasing fire that resulted in the deaths of 26 students and staff members.
In taking the lives of 20 innocent children and six of those charged with their safety, the gunman also took the peace of mind, safety and security that parents across the nation had in sending their child off to school each day.
As the nation deals with the tragedy, Craig is not exempt from coping and attempting to rebuild their trust that its students will be safe at school.
In an attempt to alleviate parents concerns and answer questions, Moffat County School District hosted two community meetings this week, one at Moffat County High School and one at Sandrock Elementary School.
Addressing those in attendance at Sandrock Wednesday night, Moffat County School District superintendent Dr. Joe Petrone, told parents the meetings were designed to give parents a sense of what the district had in place for the security and safety of the children.
Petrone also offered resources parents could utilize to help themselves and their children cope, including school counselors who were present at the meetings.
“It’s too important for us to be anything but clear and speak with clarity with respect to safety of the children,” Petrone said.
At a smaller showing at Tuesday night’s meeting, Patrick Germond, a father of three in Moffat County schools, spoke about some ideas to help increase the student security.
He suggested armed security and hardened front entrances, throwing out the idea of bulletproof glass.
“This is going to get worse,” Germond said. “This isn’t the end, this is the beginning.”
In response to armed security in the schools, school resource officer Mark Brown said state laws prohibit weapons inside schools aside from guns police officers carry.
Brown suggested writing congressman and senators if residents wanted to see a change in policy.
Craig Middle School secretary Beth Gilchrist, in response to hardening entrances, said residents shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that millions and millions of students in America go to school and are safe every day.
“It’s up to all of us. Pay attention. Look around,” Gilchrist said. “We have to work as a community and police ourselves. We have to be realistic, yes this was an incredibly horrible tragedy, but it doesn’t happen everyday and it’s happening, we are aware, we are doing everything. We can build bulletproof windows, but the bell rings at 3:40 and 500 kids pour out six openings.”
Brown added that he thought the school district was pretty amazing in regards to its foyer system.
Visitors currently must be buzzed in to enter the locked front doors of the school.
“This district is so far ahead of everywhere else I know of in the western slope,” Brown said. “Not that it can’t get better or bolstered, but that the person can get challenged is a greater deterrent than anything else.”
The school district has two school resource officers, Mark Brown and Tony Gianinetti, who split their time between the seven schools in Craig.
Although some parents seemed upset that there isn't an officer for each school, Brown said coming from Grand Junction, where he was in charge of 16 schools himself, MCSD was atypical in its ratio of resource officers to schools.
Gianinetti said that police presence at schools had been upped that week, with patrol officers commanded to patrol near schools during start and dismissal times.
With a three to five minute response time on average, pending traffic and weather, Gianinetti said it didn’t take long for law enforcement to respond to any school in Craig.
During the meeting at Sandrock, Petrone told parents schools were now drilling with law enforcement, aside from fire drills the schools do about three times a semester. Petrone said it’s likely the district will look into performing unannounced drills, but said they need to talk with parents more about it so they’re informed and aware.
Sandrock principal Kamisha Siminoe said drills would be handled with care.
“We want to drill but not alarm," Siminoe said. "We have to balance drilling and instilling fear. We don’t want to terrify kids but we also want to make sure they’re safe.”
Brown said he and Gianinetti would be working on training with staff in the schools, to empower them to make critical decisions if it should ever come down to it.
“We’re planning and training like it’s going to happen,” Brown said. “If you say it’s never going to happen you are planning to fail.”
Amanda Ott, an elementary school parent, asked administration about potential ways for teachers to barricade doors in an attempt to slow an intruder down.
“If he finds nothing but locked doors that’s going to be a big deterrent,” Ott said.
Brown warned against barricading doors for fire issues and the necessity of being able to get out.
With doors that open out and automatically lock, Brown said it would still be difficult for an intruder to kick down the door or enter.
“Your facilities here are very up to date, very safe," Brown said. "This is extremely safe compared to what I had down there in Grand Junction.”
Ott also asked how teachers were notified of incidents occurring when they were in their classrooms.
Petrone said he had the capability from the administration offices to lock down any and all schools, as well as make announcements over the speakerphone, overriding any other calls.
In schools, principals said they utilize the P.A. system.
Tracy Spencer, a substitute teacher for the school district for two years, also suggested training for substitutes about what to do if an emergency should ever occur.
Taking to the idea, Petrone said the district would work on something to train substitutes before finding themselves in a situation they were unfamiliar with how to handle.
Darian Warden can be reached at 875-1793 or firstname.lastname@example.org