Sargeant Hugo Mosquera of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department shows off his handcuffs to Sandra Tapper’s 5th grade class at Topanga Elementary on January 18. With Mosquera are Deputies Maria Villalobos and Alicia Kohno of the Juvenille Intervention Team, who work closely wih schools on safety and security issues.
When the shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, on Dec. 14, 2012, Topanga Elementary Principal Nicole Sheard thought, as tragic as it was, it was better that it happened the day prior to winter break so the students would not be in school for three weeks.
In that time, she added, the majority of parents did not expose their children to it or discuss it with them.
When school reopened on Jan. 7, 2013, Principal Nicole Sheard had prepared parents, teachers, staff and relevant official agencies for their childrens return and provided parents with resources on how they could discuss it if they chose to.
She arranged for Leland Tang, Public Information Officer for the CHP, as well as a school psychologist to be on site for the first two days.
The teachers all started the morning with a council or community circle to determine if any children seemed upset about it, Sheard said. The names of those children would be given to me to follow up with the parents and possible counseling. No names were brought and teachers reported that not one child in the school brought up Sandy Hook.
The school was careful not to discuss the tragedy with the students.
Before school reconvened, Sheard also sent the following letter to the parents outlining current security practices and changes made to improve security at the school.
January 4, 2013
Happy New Year and welcome back to school! Its that time of year where most people are thinking about resolutions for the upcoming year. As I prepare to open school on Monday, I cant help but think about the terrible tragedy that took place in Connecticut the final day before winter break.
For all of us, the tragic event that took place on December 14, 2012, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, certainly took away some of the joy from this festive season. This horrible tragedy reminds us all of how precious life is and of our duty, commitment and responsibility to be the guardians of our most precious commodity, our students. We know that when children do not feel safe, they cannot focus on learning. When staff members do not feel safe, they cannot give 100 percent to students.
There is nothing more fundamental for Topanga Elementary faculty and staff to be concerned about than the safety of students. As we move forward to continue to provide a safe and secure learning environment, it is important for you to be aware of some of our current policies as well as changes that will help improve our safety and security goals. It is imperative that parents/guardians join our efforts to remain extra vigilant to maintain a safe and secure learning environment.
1. Know that your schools Safety Committee meets monthly to propose and seek changes that promote a safe and secure campus. Parents are always welcome to attend these meetings and discuss any proposals or suggestions that would improve the safety of our campus.
2. Our Safe School Plans are reviewed annually and changes are made as needed. The Safe School Plans require monthly drills that include fire, earthquake, lockdown, and shelter-in-place drills periodically throughout the year. These drills are evaluated following each one and adjustments/improvements are made to better our practice and emergency preparedness.
3. An annual inspection of our Safety/Emergency Supply Bin is conducted and expired supplies are replenished.
4. Supervision aides are placed on the kindergarten yard and in the assembly area each morning and on the Upper Playground in the afternoon. Students are not permitted to be in any other areas during these times. Please refrain from allowing your child(ren) to play in the garden, on the lower playground, or to wait for you down the road from school following dismissal.
5. Parents are required to endure a process established by the LAUSD Board of Education in order to volunteer on campus that includes an application, background check and tuberculosis clearance.
6. All school gates are to be closed and locked during the instructional day. Please alert the office if you notice any open gates during the school day.
CHANGES YOU CAN EXPECT AS WE BEGIN THE NEW YEAR
1. Los Angeles School Police Department and Los Angeles Police Department will remain extra vigilant in their efforts to maintain a safe and secure learning environment and provide high quality, professional campus policing and security services.
Their presence on campuses will be more frequent.
School police have an informational site that may be of interest at this time: laspd.com/tips-for-teens.html#helpingyouthchildrenrecover
2. The Los Angeles Unified School District policy remains that school campuses are closed to anyone other than students, faculty and staff. Parents and guests will only be admitted on campus by going to the office and signing in our visitors book and stating their purpose for being on campus. The purpose must be approved by the Principal in accordance with District policy. Volunteers must also check in at the office.
Teachers will have alerted the office as to who has been asked to support the classroom needs and for the duration of that visit.
3. Gates will not be unlocked until the bell rings at the end of the day.
Parents have requested that the gates be opened 10 minutes early to give them time to go to the classrooms and wait for their children. This practice will be eliminated. Parents will be admitted to campus once the gates are opened after the bell has rung and school is dismissed.
4. Parents, vendors, guests and special presenters attending meetings, activities and functions will be required to go into the office and sign in and state their purpose for being on campus.
Identification will be required for any purpose not known to the office staff or Principal.
5. Parents will be asked to assist staff in looking to make sure each person on campus is wearing a visible visitors sticker, volunteer badge or employee badge. This procedure is also part of our Safe School Plan should there be an emergency and we need to know who is on campus.
6. Teachers will begin Monday morning with a Community Circle or Council. This activity allows the teachers to take a pulse and will give students an opportunity to express any feelings or fears they may have about the Connecticut event and/or school. (Teachers will not be bringing up Sandy Hook.)
Hopefully, by the time we return, children who may have been exposed to the event have been distracted by the excitement and events of the holiday season. In my research and consult on the topic it was, however, shared that, As adults, we process and hold on to things that children may not.
Conversely, we may have moved on and they may not have done so.
7. A School Counselor will be on site the first few days once we return in the event that any students show signs of needing, or request to have someone to talk to. The most important step that you as a parent can take, is to reassure your child(ren) that they are safe at school.
Remind them that they are surrounded by adults who love and care about them and who take extra steps to ensure a safe environment for them on a daily basis. I recently read a helpful article on how to talk to children about the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting.
The article can be found at: http://i45.tinypic.com/2usy8wm.jpg.
The above are all needed steps towards improving safety and security on our campus. We know it may add on a few extra minutes of time and inconvenience, but these factors should not outweigh the importance of the safety of those on campus. We simply are asking to know who is on campus at all times and why the person is here.
By asking our parents and other guests to exercise patience and extra vigilance, we can continue to provide our children with the opportunity to interact with their friends, a learning environment that promotes a spirit of community and a place where adults can volunteer and work for the betterment of students and their learning.
We trust youll support our efforts to ensure a safe and secure campus at all times. I hope you enjoy the final days of winter break and I look forward to seeing everyone Monday morning as we prepare to begin another great semester at Topanga Elementary!