Connecticut school shooting raises questions for Issaquah school administrators, parents
December 18, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
The massacre at a Newtown, Conn., school raised difficult questions for Issaquah School District administrators and parents in the days after a gunman killed 26 people — including 20 children — on the Sandy Hook Elementary School campus.
Officials sought to reassure parents about campus safety and offer advice about how parents can talk to children about the tragedy.
Local law enforcement agencies, including the Issaquah Police Department, conduct regular training to address mass shootings, or in police parlance, active-shooter incidents.
How to help
Many organizations set up ways to help families of victims and others affected by the Dec. 14 school massacre in Newtown, Conn. My Sandy Hook Family Fund is meant to help families meet immediate expenses, including funeral services, plus ongoing expenses. Learn more at the organization’s website, https://everribbon.com/ribbon/view/10076. In addition, the Newtown Memorial Fund is soliciting donations to help families and to establish a permanent memorial to the victims. Learn more at the organization’s website, http://newtown-memorialfund.org.
What to know
Local school administrators offered advice for parents to talk to children about the Dec. 14 school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Issaquah School District parents, students and staffers can report information about suspicious, illegal or unsafe activity at school or can call the district office at 837-7000.
Source: Issaquah School District
The training includes a classroom portion to examine the dynamics of active shooter situations and the equipment involved. The preparations in recent training exercises also encompassed a detailed scenario to simulate a rampaging shooter.
The shooting prompted Issaquah School District Superintendent Steve Rasmussen to discuss emergency preparedness plans for the 24-campus, 17,000-student district.
“We have worked hard over the past few years to develop our building emergency preparedness plans. We have practiced and trained to respond with confidence,” he said in a message emailed to district parents hours after the Dec. 14 incident in Newtown. “Our plans have been developed in coordination with our local police and fire departments, the county’s first responder system and the state department of emergency management. In short, we have prepared extensively.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine said the Newtown massacre should initiate a conversation about gun safety.
“Columbine, Blacksburg, Newtown. It sounds like a litany of Civil War battlefields,” he said in a statement. “But all the killing — the periodic massacres and the thousands of individual shootings between — the killing is about nothing: not slavery or states’ rights or nationhood. The killing is about nothing but mentally unstable people and our continued unwillingness to enact and enforce reasonable gun safety laws.”
Schools remain a common training site for police preparing for active shooter incidents, in part because the 1999 massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School changed the way police respond to such incidents.
Parents face difficult questions
In a training session held last year at Snoqualmie Middle School, officers from Issaquah and other police departments in the Coalition of Small Police Agencies participated in a training exercise to simulate a mass shooting in a classroom.
“The random nature of a sudden mass shooting can make us feel very vulnerable, particularly when innocent, vulnerable children are targeted,” Rasmussen said. “As we try to cope with this reality, we can and must help our children cope.”
Bertie Conrad, clinical supervisor at Youth Eastside Services and a former school counselor in the Bellevue and Renton school districts, said parents must prepare for difficult questions from children.
“It really does depend upon the age. For the younger kids who may have seen some news and are starting to ask questions, I think you want to keep it factual but not elaborate,” she said in a Dec. 14 interview. “Just tell them honestly that there was a killing at a school and that many people died, and that it was a horrible event and we’re very, very sad for these families. But tell them that they will be safe and their schools will be safe. You have to be as reassuring as possible.”
Conrad said parents can use the incident as a springboard to discuss issues, such as school safety.
“I think parents are really in a bind in this situation, because parents are traumatized, too, and parents are still worried about what if this happens at my school,” she said. “The parents have to regulate their own emotions well enough so that the kids don’t take on the parents’ anxiety.”
The incident is even more difficult for Skyline High School students to handle. The shooting occurred hours after a 16-year-old boy, a Skyline student, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a campus parking lot Dec. 13.
“Our school counselors and principals will be highly visible in the schools today and next week,” Rasmussen said. “If you have concerns about your child and would like the counselor to speak with him or her in private, please contact your child’s school office.”