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Connecticut tragedy ripples through Bristol Warren schools

By   /   December 18, 2012  /   Be the first to comment

Richard W. Dionne Jr.

Students at the Guiteras School arrive for the first day of class this past August.

Like many parents across the country, Katie Sousa of Bristol spent the weekend trying to make sense of the senseless tragedy that occurred on Friday at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“He is petrified,” Ms. Sousa said Monday, of her eight-year-old son. “I had to reassure him that it was safe.”

When word of the school shooting reached Bristol Warren, police officers were dispatched to each of the local schools as a measure of precaution.

As part of the school district’s emergency plans, 16 drills are conducted each school year that include fire drills, as well as lock down and evacuation drills.

“Last year we updated our safety plan,” said superintendent of schools Melinda Thies. “Staff members are trained in the safety plans. We talked about some of these issues. You can’t lose that sense of urgency.”

Twice a year, police conduct drills to prepare themselves for armed intruders. Using either the high school or an empty building at Roger Williams University, police rehearse for the unthinkable, securing bystanders and eliminating the active shooter.

However, the first barrier to defense is prevention.

In all the Bristol Warren schools, doors are kept locked with access to the building during school hours only granted once school personnel unlocks the door remotely. During the course of the day, police officers physically check the doors during routine patrols.

While safety is a priority in schools, the news of such a tragedy had an effect on the educational community.

“First and foremost your hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to these children and their families,” Ms. Thies said. “It becomes very personal. It’s a very frightening world we live in.”

For Bristol Town Administrator Tony Teixeira, the former dean of students at Mt. Hope High School, the school shooting brought back frightening memories of a shooting in a courtyard at then-Bristol High School in the 1980s. There, one student brought a firearm to the school and shot another.

In the Connecticut incident, Mr. Teixeira said the level of violence was unimaginable.

“The worst part here is when they target children at that age,” he said.

Since that incident, a police officer referred to as a “school resource officer” has been assigned to Mt. Hope High School. That is something that Ms. Sousa would like to see at all the district’s schools.

“We already pay the police officers’ salaries. If they have to hire more officers I don’t mind if my house taxes go up,” Ms. Sousa said.

Leading the charge, Ms. Sousa is planning to collect signatures petitioning other parents who support the idea and present it to the school administrators and the town council.

On Monday, classes resumed as normal in Bristol Warren. At Guiteras School, the doors remained unlocked to allow staff to enter before the school day. School staff assured visitors that they would be locked once the school day began.

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