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Dr. Pritz Comments on Connecticut Tragedy back button

Message from Douglas County School Superintendent Dr. Gordon Pritz

Any time we experience a tragedy such as what has occurred in Connecticut, it hits very close to home in the school system. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Newtown community. We always make safety our first priority and we do all we can, all the time, to ensure the safety of our students and our staff. We will continue to take all measures necessary to provide for a safe school environment. We know our parents take this so very serious as well and we appreciate all they do at home to help us with this expectation.

This is a stark reminder of the importance of our safety procedures and our check-in for all visitors to schools. While there is no indication that this is anything but an isolated incident far away from Douglas County, we do want to take this opportunity to remind all of our families that we conduct regular drills, including those for a building lockdown. All visitors to our schools must enter through a designated door and sign in with the school office. Other exterior doors to the buildings remain locked at all times and only staff can access those doors with their identification badge.

Our district has an extensive plan in place at each of our schools to handle emergency situations. We work very closely to prepare for emergency situations with City of Douglasville Police, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department and the Emergency Management Agency as well as other public service organizations. We regularly practice our safety procedures with students and staff through discussions and emergency exercises. While no amount of planning can guarantee that a tragedy such as this will not occur, we are doing everything we know to keep students and staff safe while at school.

Teachers, counselors and administrators will be ready on Monday morning to respond to student questions and concerns as needed. As we learn more details about this tragic incident in the hours and days ahead, it will be important for you to spend time talking with your children and helping them cope with this tragic news.

The following is a list of tips from the National Association of School Psychologists about what parents can do at times like this:

1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.

2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient. Children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily.

3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.

•           Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them.

•           Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.

•           Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.

4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.

5. Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.

6. Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.

7. Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.

After a traumatic event, it is typical for children (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief and anxiety. Your children's behaviors may change because of their response to the event. They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on schoolwork, or changes in appetite. This is normal for everyone and should begin to disappear in a few months.

If you have any questions or concerns, you are always welcome to contact the school principal or any central office administrator. Please know we have a school psychologists, social worker and counselors who can assist parents in talking with their children or answering questions.

Our thoughts go out to all of the families impacted by this tragedy and the many educators who have been devastated by the loss of their children and colleagues. Our children are our most precious resource, and our hearts are broken by this tragedy.

Douglas County School System • 9030 Highway 5, Douglasville, GA 30134 • Phone: (770) 651-2000 Copyright © 2017 Douglas County School System SCHOOLinSITES