Dec. 19, 2012 —
While most Americans recoiled in shock and grief last weekend over the senseless tragedy in Newtown, Conn., public school leaders like Carter County Supt. Ronnie Dotson had to work through their own emotions to deal with the realities of safety in their districts.
“It was a horrible, horrible tragedy,” Dotson said. “I can't even begin to imagine what those families are going through.”
The Carter County School District has a safety plan in place. They practice monthly emergency drills, including ones for lockdown situations that could come from school shooting incidents.
Carter County is no stranger to this kind of tragedy.
East Carter High School was the scene of the first documented school shooting nearly 20 years ago. A teacher, Deanna McDavid, and a custodian, Marvin Hicks, were killed by a student, Gary Scott Pennington, who was 17 at the time.
By law, each school district must complete two fire drills within the first 30 days of school, and one every month after. Districts also conduct drills for severe weather and earthquakes.
Dotson said after Friday's shooting the district did not consider closing early for the holidays.
“Our hearts go out to those people,” Dotson said. “Research shows schools are the safest place for kids to be and keeping students busy in school helps them cope better with stress.”
Kentucky State Police officers visited schools within the district on Monday, walking through to check doors and make recommendations to principals and staff about possible safety concerns.
The superintendent said he believes Monday’s normal attendance figure was evidence that the public has confidence in the school district’s safety procedures.
Dotson said the most difficult hurdle for staff members will be questions from students.
“We sent out info to all staff members on how to deal with questions that the students may have,” Dotson said. “It had a list of things that they would need to be prepared for. We didn't bring it up, but we want to address any questions they may have.”
Dotson said honesty would be something all staff members would use to answer questions.
“This is a time to show the kids that they can come to us with anything and we will be truthful with them,” he added.
Carter County has about 4,900 students and 700 employees who spend each school day in 11 buildings, including the two high schools, two middle schools, six elementary schools, and the career and technical center.
The school district employs two armed school resource officers (SRO), one at each high school.
Could the public’s reaction to what happened in Connecticut result in armed officers in all schools?
Dotson says that although it isn't something the district is actively pursuing, that it may be a reality in the future.
At all the schools, doors stay locked, except for the entrance, which has a locked area that separates the outside world from the students.