When Blountstown High School Principal Debbie Williams heard chatter last week about students possibly bringing a knife and gun to school Friday following a dispute among classmates, she didn’t take the matter lightly. Law enforcement officers converged at the campus, searching and interviewing to verify the talk on Facebook and text messages was just a rumor.
Fortunately, no weapons were found, no fight occurred and the matter at BHS was handled swiftly.
At the same time, clear up the east coast, the small picturesque community of Newtown, Connecticut, was experiencing a tragedy that has pierced the heart of our nation. A 20-year-old gunman blasted his way through a secure entrance at Sandy Hook Elementary School, then gunned down 20 students between the ages of 6 and 7, along with six educators including the school’s principal.
This unspeakable act of violence immediately brought school safety to the table for educators across the country. Here in Calhoun County, School Superintendent Ralph Yoder immediately summoned all local school principals for a meeting to discuss just how safe our schools are and address any vulnerable areas that need attention.
Yoder answered questions on the subject for The County Record and shares this information with our readers:
THE COUNTY RECORD: In light of Friday's tragedy, what safety measures do you believe are lacking in Calhoun County schools?
YODER: We are currently evaluating our procedures and safety measures as it relates to all of our unique schools sites. We will take appropriate action where needed.
TCR: What are the plans to correct any security gaps?
YODER: I have asked each principal to consider any needed safety measures to implement at their schools. I will review the requests and bring a recommendation to the School Board if necessary.
TCR: Is any additional training for teachers and administrators planned in the event an emergency such as the one in Connecticut should occur here?
YODER: Unrelated to the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Panhandle Area Educational Consortium which provides many necessary education-related services to the small rural school districts in our area had recently scheduled training for principals regarding “Crisis Management for School-Based Incidents - Partnering Rural Law Enforcement and the Local School Systems”. All Calhoun County Principals, Assistant Principals, several district staff members and I are scheduled to receive the training in February.
I have reminded our staff to remain vigilant as it relates to the safety and security of our students, asking them to be aware of the surroundings and keep a watchful eye for any suspicious activity.
TCR: Are teachers discussing the incident with students?
YODER: We have not instructed our teachers to discuss the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting incident. Neither have we instructed our teachers to not discuss it. We have provided resources to our principals, assistant principals and guidance counselors regarding school and community violence from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) www.nasponline.org.
TCR: How can parents and community members assist the school with safety measures?
YODER: Parents need to continue to reinforce that the school system is a safe place for their children.
Parents and community members can also assist by supporting and championing the efforts that the school system goes through to ensure the safety and security of our students, including when school personnel checks ID’s when necessary. A safe and orderly learning environment doesn’t happen by accident and our staff of professionals will continue to operate with intentional purpose to ensure the safety and security of our students.
I view strong and trusted relationships between the school system, parents and community members as a catalyst for a strong school system and a vibrant, growing community.
TCR: I understand there was fear of a student or students bringing weapons to BHS Friday and that matter was quickly resolved with, fortunately, no weapons found. Did you want to comment on how Dr. Williams handled the situation?
YODER: The incident referred to last week was a rumored threat of a security violation. We took the rumored threat seriously and implemented appropriate and reasonable measures to ensure the safety and security of the students at BHS. I am proud of the way Dr. Williams and her staff worked closely with the School Resource Officers, Calhoun County Sherriff’s Office and the Blountstown Police Department. Thankfully, the day ended without incident.
As a side note, I was on BHS campus all day Friday and observed the dedicated action of our faculty and staff.
Superintendent Yoder went on to say, “We mourn with the families that lost loved ones in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As a parent, my heart aches for the parents who will have unopened gifts under their Christmas tree this Christmas.”
He also stressed how important safety is to his administration. “Several weeks ago, I met with my staff and shared with them my personal and professional core values. As Superintendent, one of my five core values is ‘Safety – Student safety, our first priority.’ I take this seriously and I expect the faculty and staff of the Calhoun County School system to follow suit.”