WAYNE COUNTY — In light of the recent tragedy that took place in Newtown, Conn., local school districts are stepping up to further protect their students.
On Friday, a school shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people were killed, 20 of which were first-graders. The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, then pulled the gun on himself.
Western Wayne, Wayne Highlands and Wallenpaupack school districts have implemented various procedures to continue making their students safe.
The superintendents at Western Wayne and Wayne Highlands have had discussions with administrators and faculty, helping to prepare them to be there for students if they have any concerns, in light of recent events. The school counselors and school psychologists have also prepared staff with "developmentally appropriate" ways to cope with students' needs.
Wallenpaupack had a debriefing after school Monday to discuss some of the things they can do as well.
Safety is a number one priority for all three districts.
"We have a school resource officer in the high school all day," said Western Wayne acting Superintendent Clay LaCoe. "Any time we need to dispatch the resource officer to any of our buildings, we are able to do so."
Western Wayne High School and the Evergreen Elementary School each have secure vestibules, which add another layer of security.
"We are working on getting vestibules in the middle school and the R.D. Wilson School as well," stated LaCoe. "We have a buzz in system and every door of every building is locked all the time from the outside in. All staff members wear an I.D. and each building has a school safety plan."
LaCoe added that prior to the Sandy Hook tragedy, Western Wayne was already working on evaluating their school safety district-wide.
"We are going to be meeting with state police and PA homeland security and we will be discussing our emergency plans," he said. "State police and PA homeland security will be presenting to all of our district-wide employees. We will have several of these meetings."
He said the first one was supposed to be on Oct. 31, but due to hurricane Sandy it was moved. The first meeting will take place on Jan. 21 from 1-3:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.
"The counselors, faculty and staff are always available to talk to students," LaCoe said. "I feel schools are still safe and I want people to feel comfortable. If anyone has any concerns or questions all they have to do is pick up the phone and call. Someone will be available to talk to."
Wayne Highlands School District Superintendent Greg Frigoletto said the administrators in the district would have an emergency faculty meeting to review the policy and procedure with the safety plans of all the buildings.
Page 2 of 2 - "We are reviewing our protocols to ensure we maintain a safe environment for the students," Frigoletto stated. "We will be having a meeting with the District Attorney, and the state and borough police, to discuss the safety plans. The school psychologist is also available for anyone who may need to talk."
He added that they are implementing various plans for safety.
"We are all responsible to maintain a safe environment," he said. "Safety is the number one priority. The state police have committed to making a presence at the schools for the next few days. Our psychologists have prepped the teachers with appropriate age support as well."
Frigoletto agrees with LaCoe that schools are still a safe place to be.
Joann Hudak, assistant superintendent at Wallenpaupack, said the district implements the Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) under an all hazard tool kit, which is a template in the state school system that covers things like training, drills, etc. It is updated yearly.
"It's a very good plan," she said. "All the administrators get trained regularly and we have various drills that are done."
Among those drills are fire, weather, code green and code red. Code green put simply is keeping the halls clear and continue teaching when something happens that students shouldn't see, such as someone being taken to the hospital. Code red is otherwise known as a lockdown.
"We train to the best of our ability," Hudak said. "The fire chiefs and state police also tour the buildings so they know where everything is if something happens. We will continue to drill, drill, drill, so we are prepared. The all hazard tool kit has all things that could happen, and we prepare."
She said there are three basic steps to the safety plans: prevention, response and recovery. She also adds that it's important to have a good relationship with emergency management personnel and law enforcement because they are there to help and the school "couldn't do it without them."
"We can always do better," Hudak stated. "We will continue to stay on top of it to the best of our ability."