By Selwyn Harris
Local parents are reacting to Friday’s mass shooting in Connecticut with questions about the safety of their own school-aged children here.
The shooting deaths in Newtown, Conn. of 20 elementary school students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School has many parents here wondering what precautions the Nye County School District NCSD has in place to prevent a similar tragedy.
Scott Patton has two of his grandchildren attending Hafen Elementary School. He said something more needs to be done to prevent senseless acts of violence across the country.
“There’s too many psychos out there. The government should do some kind of gun control. They need to do something about that. I don’t know. It was a very sad situation. We turned the TV off this morning because it was too much. We just turned the kids’ shows on for them to watch and that was it,” he said.
Parent Lesli Shimakawa said Monday news out of Connecticut resonated in her home as well.
“It just broke my heart. All of those little kids. I have kids and it just broke my heart that someone would do that,” she said.
Shimakawa has two children attending J.G. Johnson. She said she feels her kids are in a safe environment when she drops them off at school each morning.
Daniel Devine has two children at J.G. Johnson Elementary School, too.
He said when he first heard the news about the shooting his initial thoughts were how the families of the victims were holding up.
His thoughts then turned to his own children and how safe he thought the campus was during a recent visit.
“It can happen to any of our kids. Going in there myself during the day where I picked up my kids for a doctor’s appointment, it was pretty easy to get in there. There really isn’t any type of security when you go in there as far as having to be buzzed in or an intercom system. In the wake of a tragedy like this, I think that it’s okay to question the security of the school that your children are attending,” he said.
Devine said he hopes that all of the schools around the country are rethinking their campus security.
Renee May was dropping off her child at Floyd Elementary School on Tuesday when she offered her thoughts about the senseless massacre.
“It’s a shame because we send our kids to school thinking they are in the hands of authority figures and we believe they will be safe and they don’t come home at all. They are supposed to be safe and learning,” she said.
May noted that she has spoken to her kids about the tragedy just to assuage any emotional problems and concerns. She says she is monitoring what they watch on television, too.
“I really don’t let them watch the news because there is so much bad stuff on there and that is all I hear about. I just don’t think they should be subjected to it at such a young age and have them fear going to school. If he has any questions, I will try to explain it to him but I’d rather not have him know. It is very sad,” she said.
School district Board of Trustees President Traci Ward also has children attending elementary school in Pahrump.
Ward said that the shooting is every parent’s worst nightmare.
“Quite honestly, when I send my children to school, I feel like they are safe because I know the procedures that we have, but apparently that man broke a window to get in. In our schools, you have to go in through the main doors because everything else is locked up once school starts. You have to check in with the office to go through. They have procedures in place if someone comes thorough who is not authorized,” she said.
On Friday, Hafen Elementary School Principal Todd Nelson said he was shocked and stunned when news of the shooting first broke.
“It was horrible, just horrible news. My prayers go out to the families that are going through the suffering right now,” he said.
Nelson said his school regularly goes through drills in case such an emergency ever occurs at the campus.
“It puts us on alert. We have been practicing our monthly ‘Code Red’ drills with the students. Just today we had our fire drill. We’ve had earthquake drills. On the code red drills, we take action if there is a danger nearby the school or within the school there is a danger. It teaches the kids what to do in those situations. We go to a lockdown, we cover our windows and try to make ourselves unknown here at the school,” he said.
The last time a local school was put on lockdown occurred four years ago when Nye County sheriff’s deputies responded to Manse Elementary School following a report of a person with a gun near the campus in early 2008.
Assistant Sheriff Rick Marshall said the department routinely conducts drills in case the unthinkable happens.
“We do perform active shooter drills. We are very well prepared. Of course, law enforcement by nature tries to be proactive. Normally, we are called as things are happening or after they have happened,” he said. “I do recall the Manse incident. The call came in as an active shooter and the school went into their lockdown procedures.
“Everything worked well. Thankfully that was a false alarm, but we got to put some things into practice that were real and it worked out for us,” he said.
For security purposes, Ward did not want to elaborate on the various security measures being utilized within the district.
“You hope that it will never happen but then it does happen and you begin to understand why we have these procedures in place. We do have a crisis management plan at all of the schools. Each school has a crisis management plan and the district has a districtwide plan, which we review every year. We need to be prepared. We see it happening in other places and we don’t want to have it here but we need to have something in place because if it does happen, we can protect the most amount of students,” she said.
On Monday, Superintendent Dale Norton conveyed his thoughts in a statement issued to teachers and administrators throughout the district.
In part, the statement read, “I cannot even imagine the feelings in that district, community, and school as this event unfolds. My sincere thoughts and reflections are upon that region,” he said.
As for answering questions or resolving the emotional aftermath that children exposed to news of the tragedy may experience, Stephen Stepanovich, a local family counselor at Nevada Behavioral Solutions, says parents should listen and communicate with their children about the incident.
“Some of the parents that we work with said their children were very upset about it. The best thing we can do is be supportive and even write letters to the families if possible. If there are questions about children’s safety, I do know from watching the news that schools are beefing up their security. I don’t think parents should be worried too much about their children’s safety, or that these events are going to be happening because people might think it’s the end of the world,” he said, referring to the looming date for the end of the Mayan calendar, which some believe signals an end of days event.
Stepanovich said that though the event was very upsetting, parents should assure their kids that they are loved and will be safe while in the classroom.
He noted that parents should be aware of what their kids are watching on television as it relates to the tragedy as well.
“I think a little information doesn’t hurt anybody and I think there is some benefit to watching television and getting the best information you can. You don’t want to watch it too much where you become obsessed. I think the one biggest concern that I have had with parents, where they ask if that can happen here, it can happen anywhere in the United States,” he said.
Stepanovich said the tragedy can affect kids in a number of different ways.
First and foremost is the fear factor.
“I think it worries them. I think that they are concerned about being able to go to school and feel safe and comfortable. That’s the big question. At what point do we sit there and say are our children going to be constantly worried and have anxieties over being attacked in school when all they want to do is go learn and enjoy their time with their peers and fellow classmates?” he asked.
Stepanovich noted that anyone within the community can take advantage of pro bono services he provides if they are feeling anxious about the tragedy.
“We just opened our doors and we have two brand new therapists and we are here to answer any questions,” he said.
Nevada Behavioral Solutions is located at 1210 E. Basin.