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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 14 2012

Local school officials react to news of Connecticut rampage

MOORHEAD – Leaders of metro-area schools said on Friday they didn’t make a point to inform students of the massive school shooting, though they were reacting in other ways.

The superintendent of Moorhead’s public schools said Friday the district was planning to post information on its website to help parents deal with questions and concerns children might have after a gunman who also died shot and killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn. The district also emailed the parents in their database to make them aware of the tragic incident and steps the district was taking.

“We decided we needed to do something,” Superintendent Lynne Kovash said.

Kovash went to one of the district’s elementary schools to gauge the reactions of children and adults. She also held a crisis planning session with counselors Friday. She said most children probably didn’t hear about the shootings until they got out of class or were at home.

District staff will watch the reactions of students when they return to school Monday and have counseling available, she said.

“Over the weekend, I’m sure they’re going to hear a lot,” which can spur anxiety, Kovash said.

She said parents need to be reassured as well.

“Parents are going to struggle with this for a while, too,” Kovash said. “At an elementary level, it’s hard to believe.”

Neither Fargo Superintendent Jeff Schatz or West Fargo Superintendent David Flowers had heard from principals of any reactions from students about the tragedy Friday.

Flowers said informing West Fargo students of the shootings could have raised anxiety levels in the district, which is grieving the deaths last week of three high school students.

“The counselors are just spread thin,” Flowers said.

Schatz said Fargo public school counselors will also be ready to help students next week if need be.

“Our counselors are well prepared in these types of things. … (Students will) have a place to go visit and address these issues,” Schatz said.

All three superintendents said their districts have detailed plans to deal with intruders, and regularly test them to determine if changes are needed or if more training is required for teachers, administrators and other staff.

“Each school has their own plan, and they are very consistent across the board,” Schatz said. “The Fargo Public Schools have a very good plan to deal with just about any scenario that comes at us.”

However, an armed gunman is one of the most difficult situations to deal with, he said.

“It’s pretty difficult to stop someone from doing something like this. It’s just a tough deal. We have lockdown procedures, and we practice those regularly,” Schatz said. “As soon as something might occur. Going into a lockdown mode is your best source of action.”

Flowers said he and his staff will see if anything can be learned from the Connecticut tragedy.

“We try to keep a level of preparedness all the time,” Flowers said.

“Throughout this fall, we’ve been doing intruder drills. … We’re always trying to be in the mode of being prepared for something of this nature,” he said. “It’s something we work on and hope we don’t ever have to use.”

Friday’s attack was the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, which left 32 people and the gunman dead.

Schatz said he doesn’t understand why someone would possibly want to shoot innocent children.

“In all society, the concern has to be, ‘Why are people doing these types of things.’ I think it’s a broader issue than just schools. You see it everywhere. You see it all over the country,” Schatz said. “It’s just a tragic event. It’s so sad.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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