Although Friday’s tragedy happened more than 800 miles from the Lowcountry, it still hit close to home for many local parents, grandparents and other family members.
Folks with no connection to Newtown, Conn., took to social media to express their feelings, expressing shock and outrage and encouraging each other to “hug your children a little tighter today.”
“Prayers for the families of the unspeakable tragedy in Connecticut,” Sullivan’s Island Elementary School music teacher Julie Mathias wrote on Facebook. “As an elementary school teacher, I can only imagine the horror of this day.”
“My heart hurts, my tears flow, and my head will never understand,” wrote Kristen Martin of Charleston.
Local school districts were quick to distance themselves from the killings.
The Charleston County School District issued a statement that said there is “no indication of a threat to any CCSD school or the district. Our security team is monitoring the situation and they are in direct contact with local, state and federal law enforcement authorities.”
The Berkeley County School District issued a statement that said there was “no direct connection to our school district,” and added, “This horrific act of violence against children and the school community is unexplainable.”
While many in the community may have sought comfort in each other, parents did not turn to their school districts for reassurance, even while the districts steeled themselves to deal with possible fallout from students who may be affected by it.
“We have not received phone calls from parents,” said Berkeley County spokeswoman Amy Kovach. “Our guidance counselors are aware of the situation and will respond to any specific requests as needed through early next week.”
Like many other districts, Charleston’s crisis team, which includes guidance counselors and other mental health professionals, “is ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice,” according to the district statement. Dorchester officials said the same thing.
State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, who was visiting schools in Horry County on Friday, said, “South Carolina educators and school resource officers work hard every day to ensure safe school environments. Today’s tragedy is a reminder that we live in a world that is not free of violence. We must also be mindful of our surroundings and report suspicious activity to school leaders or law enforcement authorities.”
In the wake of other tragedies over the years, local school districts have implemented several precautions to keep students safe, including keeping exterior doors locked, placing security cameras around campus, and requiring identification from visitors, said Dorchester District 2 spokeswoman Pat Raynor.
At the beginning of each school year, faculty and staff review safety and crisis procedures, Charleston County’s statement said.
Schools follow protocols that include herding students into classrooms, locking doors and waiting quietly for the “all clear.”
Schools regularly practice intruder drills. For instance, Howe Hall Arts Infused Elementary School had a drill Oct. 11 with a simulated lockdown that included the Goose Creek Police Department, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office and Berkeley County Emergency Preparedness.
Summerville’s Pinewood Preparatory School had a similar drill Nov. 15 with the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office.
“Of course, we try to prepare for any kind of safety issues that may come up,” Raynor said. “(Parents) know that safety is a big priority for us. But just how do you prepare for something like this? ”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.