Schools Lock Doors, Open Arms

Students at New Haven’s Quinnipiac School returned Monday morning to a hug at the doorway—and to their routines.

The extra hugs came as New Haven schools sought to help kids make a smooth transition back to school Monday, three days after a massacre at a Newtown elementary school grabbed the nation’s attention.

Quinnipiac School Principal Grace Nathman said she called in her staff 45 minutes before school was set to open Monday to review security protocols and talk about how to handle any questions that might arise in the wake of the tragedy. Her school serves students in K to 2, the same age as the 20 students who were killed in Friday’s shooting. When students arrived, staff stood ready at the doors.

“We greeted every kid with a hug,” she said.

Later, at Monday night’s meeting of the Board of Aldermen, city lawmakers held a moment of silence and agreed to hold a public hearing on school safety.

Nathman said her school includes one student whose half-brother attended Sandy Hook Elementary, where the shooting took place. Staff hugged him, told him “we love him,” and tried to go back to normal, Nathman said.

“We had a couple of kids who were afraid to go into their classroom,” Nathman said, but as a whole the school was able to resume routines. Continuing routines is key to helping kids feel secure in the wake of trauma, according to Steve Marans of the Yale Child Study Center, which has worked with city schools and at local crime scenes for years.

Hill Central School Principal Glen Worthy said his school held a moment of silence, but did not directly address the shooting with students. Other schools addressed the tragedy in morning meetings.

Counselors are available in city schools this week for any students, teachers or staff who need help, according to schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith. In a press release sent Monday evening, Smith outlined the ways the city school system is keeping students safe.

Principals met with social workers, psychologists, counselors and staff Monday morning to “discuss age-appropriate ways to talk to students about what happened,” she said. Staff from the school district’s central office set up a new hotline for staff who need help and visited schools Monday to check security protocols. Social workers and school psychologists planned to meet at the end of Monday to debrief on how the day went and what extra resources might be needed.

Meanwhile, police stepped up patrols near schools Friday and this week. Cops plan to visit schools.

Superintendent Reggie Mayo “asked principals, teachers and staff to be on heightened alert throughout the week and to report any suspicious behavior to staff or security personnel.”

School doors were to remain locked during school hours. Visitors to schools must be let in through a security camera and buzzer system, Smith said.

The school district plans to create a committee to look at ways to improve school security, Smith added. The panel will include administrators, principals, teachers, parents, police, aldermen, and members of the school board.

Schools sent information about school security and counseling to every parent in the district through automated phone calls Friday and Sunday, Smith said.

In a recorded message, Mayo “reassured parents their children will be safe and well-cared for at school.” Mayo also sent letters to principals, teachers and parents about security and counseling. And the district posted info on the schools website on how to talk to kids in the wake of tragedy. Click here for related advice from the Yale Child Study Center.

Aldermen Respond

Thomas MacMIllan PhotoDuring the “Divine Guidance” before Monday evening’s meeting of the Board of Aldermen, East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker (pictured) led his colleagues in a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Newtown shooting.

Elicker laid out five suggested responses to the tragedy: People must “look after one another, care for one another.” New Haven public schools must assure the safety of children. “Don’t buy your kids violent video games and movies this holiday season.” Boycott stores that sell military-style assault weapons. Call on public officials to ban assault rifles and create a national gun registry.

Elicker introduced a resolution, signed on to by all of his colleagues, “offering the Board of Aldermen’s most heartfelt condolences, sympathy, and support to the families, loved ones and neighbors of the victims of the terrible shooting in Newtown, CT.” The proposal passed with unanimous consent.

He also submitted an order “calling for a briefing and public hearing on New Haven school safety,” which was similarly supported by all of his colleagues on the board.

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posted by: mechanic on December 18, 2012  11:44am

Grace Nathman is a great principal and a lovely woman.

posted by: WvilleParent on December 18, 2012  2:23pm

What a nice way to welcome the kids back to school, well done Ms. Nathman! If only Edgewood School had been so thoughtful, rather than keeping students and parents locked out well past the 8:20 am opening time.

posted by: Ewood_Parent on December 19, 2012  1:02pm

Wville Parent, your comment could not be more wrong. The doors at Edgewood were opened at exactly 8:20. Mrs. Reynolds and her great staff at Edgewood have taken steps to make our kids safe but it’s parents like you who are more worried about what is convenient for you rather than what is safe for the children. Why would you make a false comment like that and throw your child’s school under the bus. It’s parents like you that make the rest of us Edgewood parents look bad.

posted by: Long Time NH Resident on December 19, 2012  8:22pm

Thank you Ewood parent for the clarification, I was about to call the superintendent to complain about that as all schools should be somewhat coordinated as to how they react.

All I could picture is all these young kids being confused as to why the school wasn’t opened after what happened.