NEWBERRY COUNTY — The tragedy on Friday in Connecticut has left many parents asking questions about the safety of the children as they returned to school Monday morning.
Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster and School District of Newberry County Superintendent Bennie Bennett want to assure parents throughout Newberry County that their children are indeed safe as they attend school.
According to both men, Newberry County has received both state and national recognition for its partnerships, preparation, planning, and mitigation of critical incidents that might occur at schools.
“We have long understood that you cannot have Homeland Security without home town security,” said Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster. “These events shock us to our very core because the attacker uses the thing we hold dear, our children, and a place we desire to feel safe, our schools, to create the greatest possible shock factor possible. We have joined forces with the school district, law enforcement, and public safety to say we are united in our love for our children and our commitment to keep them safe in every way possible.”
“It is impossible for our children to be educated, if they fear for their safety,” said Superintendent Bennie Bennett. “Our desire is to create an environment where every child has the potential to be successful and we understand that having a comprehensive safety plan that includes recognition of warning signs, controlling environmental factors like access points to the school, and planning our response to such an incident are absolutely a critical portion of creating that successful environment.”
There are school resource officers stationed at each high school and middle school in the county, and those officers do respond to the other campuses as certain situations might dictate.
Every school in the school district is required to practice at least one lock down drill a year, and at least once a year law enforcement officers across Newberry County conduct drills where they simulate responding to an active shooter in the school environment. In addition, the school district, law enforcement, and all aspects of public safety have developed a comprehensive response plan that encompasses all foreseeable aspects of an incident such as this.
Training classes are taught by law enforcement officers not just on how to prepare and respond, but on the warning signs that someone might be ready to commit an act of violence.
“Many of the school shooters have shown significant warning signs that they were considering an act of violence,” said Major Todd Johnson of the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office, who is on the National Institute of Justice’s School Safety Technical Working Group. “In more than 80 percent of these shootings, the shooter had significantly alarmed someone they were close to; however, that person chose not to act. Early intervention is the key to stopping these acts from occurring.”
Johnson went on to say that on Friday in Oklahoma a student was about to carry out a similar attack on a school, but the attack was thwarted when a fellow student reported his unusual behavior and the school and law enforcement were able to intervene.
School and law enforcement officials are aware that parents send their most precious possession into the schools every day. By placing school resource officers on the campuses of middle and high schools, implementing comprehensive plans, practicing these plans; the citizens of Newberry County can rest assured that their trust is never taken lightly.
“May we prepare for the worst and pray for the best as we protect our children and prepare them for the future,” said Foster.