Local parents, teachers solemn, mindful of Sandy Hook

Charleston police officer Kate Lenihan checks on Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary School in West Ashley on Monday. She also checked on other elementary schools in the area. Buy this photo

Like most parents, Goose Creek father of three Chris Swetckie has been thinking a lot about the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

But Swetckie, principal of Howe Hall Arts Infused Magnet School, which two of his sons attend, also knows schools are doing all they can to protect children from situations like the one in Connecticut, where 20-year-old Adam Lanza forced his way into the school and killed 26 people in a barrage of gunfire.

“If I wasn’t 100 percent confident that my sons would be safe and I would be safe, then I would be worried, but I know that we have done everything that’s humanly possible to protect our children,” he said.

Howe Hall held an intruder drill and simulated lockdown that included local law enforcement agencies on Oct. 11.

“I heard from a number of parents that were very grateful that we did the drill and that we were being proactive,” he said Monday.

“We do a fire drill every month. I hope and pray that we never have a fire at our school but we need to make sure that the kids understand the rules. Unfortunately (intruder drills) are no different now. You pray that a tragedy like this never happens but you have to be prepared.”

As teachers, students and parents returned to Lowcountry schools on Monday, most were mindful of the tragedy. Some schools, like Sedgefield Middle, started the day with a moment of silence.

Ashley River Creative Arts Elementary kindergarten teacher Jeannine Laban said she thought about her class all weekend and brainstormed ways to better protect her students if something were to happen. Principal Jayne Ellicott said she received phone calls and emails Monday from parents asking about the school’s safety procedures.

“Obviously there were a lot of heavy hearts today,” Swetckie said. “There were not quite as many smiles in the drop-off line.”

Local school districts reinforced current safety procedures and added new ones, stressing that they are working in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies.

Charleston County School District will have increased police presence at schools at least through the end of the year, officials said. Superintendent Nancy McGinley also asked all principals to have mandatory meetings to review safety procedures and stressed safety precautions in an automated phone call to parents, adding that “no amount of planning can guarantee that a tragedy will not occur.”

Dorchester District 2 Superintendent Joe Pye met with principals and Berkeley County School District’s leadership team gathered for a meeting.

“Naturally an event of this magnitude that occurs in a school gives all administrators, teachers and staff in our school system reason to focus on the safety procedures and security measures that are in place to protect children and staff,” according to a Dorchester 2 statement.

Officials also urged parents to keep open the lines of communication with their children.

“We talked to our sons this weekend about what happened because I knew when you’ve got this much coverage, something’s going to get out there,” Swetckie said. “I think it’s important as parents that you talk to kids openly and honestly. It’s important that you limit their TV exposure, keep your eyes on them and make sure that they feel comfortable coming to you with questions.”

McGinley also urged parents to discuss the shootings with their children, and to seek assistance from school guidance counselors or mental health professionals if necessary. Berkeley and Dorchester counties both said additional support is available to those who need it.

Berkeley County School District issued a statement that said: “We recognize that students, parents, and other loved ones may feel a heightened level of anxiety this week in the wake of this tragic incident.”

Diette Courrégé Casey and Christina Elmore contributed to this story. Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.

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