After tragedy, schools seek ‘normalcy’

SAKONNET AREA — In the aftermath of the tragedy in Connecticut, school and town officials here say they have been working to establish a calming presence and project an atmosphere of normalcy.

Portsmouth Police kept a close eye on all town schools Monday but did so without trying to be conspicuous, Chief Lance Hebert said.

“We didn’t want to go in with a show of force and alarm people,” he said Monday morning. “But we are in the school zones.” Officers deliberately kept a low profile by doing traffic work and other tasks.

Chief Hebert said the intent was to provide security in there wake of the Connecticut school shootings without disrupting schedules or giving youngsters added cause for concern.

 Tiverton, Portsmouth and Little Compton have have planned meetings at which they will listen to the concerns of parents. And all three towns say they will contemplate physical changes to make schools more secure,, work that may involve capital spending.

In a Monday mailing to parents, faculty and school staff, Wilbur & McMahon Principal Joao Arruda announced a that  “a meeting has been scheduled for all parents/guardians of students in our school community for this Wednesday [Dec. 19] at 6:30 p.m., in the School Commons concerning safety protocols in our school. ” He invited anyone with questions or concerns prior to the meeting to call him (635-2351 x2).

In Tiverton, the school committee has scheduled a meeting for Thursday night, Dec. 20,  at 5 p.m. in the high school library.  “This meeting will provide parents and members of the public an opportunity to share their concerns or ask questions regarding the school tragedy that occurred in Newtown, CT,” Tiverton School Superintendent William Rearick announced.

Meanwhile, school activities Monday and Tuesday appeared to be as close to routine as possible. “The goal was to have everything go as normally as possible,” said Tiverton School Committee Chairwoman Sally Black on Tuesday morning. “Yesterday was just like a regular day.”

Ms. Black said she and Mr. Rearick together personally toured all Tiverton public schools on Monday, beginning with the high school (“which starts first in the morning,” she said), and met with staff in each school.

All schools held early morning staff meetings (which included the school psychologist and guidance staff), she said, so that by the time she and Mr. Rearick reached the last school in succession, its meeting had concluded. But the point was made, the flag was shown. “It was very well-received,” said Ms. Black of the visits she and Mr. Rearick had made.

Ms. Black said there were police officers in all Tiverton school parking lots, walking around, waving as drivers entered — not asserting a police presence, but available.

Tuesday morning Tiverton Police Captain Patrick Jones confirmed the officers’ intentionally unobtrusive presence. “We placed the officers there yesterday and today to give our students piece of mind, given the tragic events of last week,” he said.

None of the officers, said observers, were inside school buildings.

Little Compton’s Wilbur & McMahon School likewise began the day Monday with a staff meeting that included teachers, a psychologist, guidance staff, and town Police Chief Sidney Wordell and Fire Chief Rick Petrin.

Little Compton School Superintendent Kathryn Crowley said Tuesday that Monday’s meeting among other things reviewed school evacuation drill procedures.

Both Superintendent Crowley and Ms. Black reported that from what they heard there appeared to be no increase in either Little Compton or Tiverton school absences, or of parents driving their children to school — instead of letting them take the bus.

Ms. Crowley did say that early Monday she had talked with a few parents, some of whom “were a little fearful.”

Portsmouth Superintendent of Schools School Lynn Krizic sent a message telling families that “our buildings are always locked during the school day. As soon as our building leaders learned of the shooting they immediately sought to ensure all doors were locked as is our procedure in times of a crisis.

“Please know that while there is no plan that can totally prevent a random act of senseless violence like this, the Portsmouth School Department does have a school safety plan in place that has been reviewed by law enforcement authorities, administrators and teachers. As the lessons of this event emerge, our plan will be reviewed and updated accordingly.”

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