Federal Way schools respond to Newtown massacre

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012. - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use
Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
— image credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

As the country comes to terms with the shooting deaths of 26 students and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., local school officials are offering their perspective on the tragic events of last Friday.

Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) has security measures in place to protect local students in the event anything like Newtown were to ever happen in Federal Way.

"We have worked hard over the past few years to develop our building emergency preparedness plans," said FWPS Superintendent Rob Neu in a statement released on Dec. 16. "We have practiced and trained to respond with confidence. Our plans have been developed in coordination with our local police and fire departments, the county's First Responder system and the state Department of Emergency Management. In short, we have prepared extensively."

Neu said the hardest part of any tragedy like Newtown is trying to help children cope with something inconceivable.

"The random nature of a sudden mass shooting can make us feel very vulnerable, particularly when innocent, vulnerable children are targeted," he said. "As we try to cope with this reality, we can and must help our children cope."

Neu and FWPS shared a number of thoughts on how to address the issue with children, no matter their age:

• Monitor children's television and Internet use. With a story that consumes the news cycle 24/7 for days on end, the district and Neu feel the news can heighten anxiety in young children. The superintendent and district suggest turning off any kind of devices that can access media, and instead suggest finding activities that the family can do together away from those devices.

• Maintain a normal routine.

• Stick to facts. Answer any questions children have factually.

• Remember to filter what you say to a child. Avoid graphic details.

• Remain calm and reassuring. Children take their cues from adults.

• Be optimistic.

"The safety of our students and staff is our highest priority. It takes parents, students, staff and community working together to keep our schools safe places to learn," Neu said.

Neu reminded Federal Way residents that if they ever see any suspicious, potentially illegal or unsafe activities taking place on school grounds, they should call the Safe Schools Tip line at (253) 945-7233. Callers can remain anonymous if they wish.

Deputy Superintendent Mark Davidson echoed much of Neu's sentiments, saying the safety is paramount to the district.

"Safety of everybody on our campuses or any of our properties is always a first priority, and has been for as long as I can remember," Davidson said. "The decisions we make, even decisions related to weather issues, are always based on that."

Davidson noted the district has a security officer at every middle school in the district, except for the TAF Academy and Federal Way Public Academy. The middle school security officers are complemented by three roaming officers who move throughout the district during their workday, which typically spans 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

"The security people are all employees of the district, and their focus is what happens at our schools and around the district," he said. "Obviously, this week, their highest priority is to be as visible as possible. We think that helps people feel better about an awful situation (Newtown)."

At the high schools in the district, Federal Way police officers provide security, and are known as School Resource Officers. The officers at the high schools sport their full complement of gear, including firearms and tasers. Davidson noted that the middle school security officers carry pepper spray and nothing else.

For Davidson, the role of school security at any level is about building healthy relationships between students, staff and any others who may come into contact with the district.

"If I summed up what we think the philosophy is that keeps schools safest, I'd say it's about relationships. If we look at all the events that occurred, whether they be from outside, or from current students, the one underlying factor that connects them all is mental health. It really is about mental health. And as far as students go, it's about knowing how the kids are doing, which kids are hurting," he said. "It's about knowing your kids."


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