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Horror of school shooting alarms Chicagoland parents

(MCT) — As news of the Connecticut elementary school shooting spread across the Chicago area, parents attempted to process how anything so horrifying could happen.

Some took to social media to share emotions, or even to note how closely they were counting the hours until they could pick their children up and hug them. Some called their child’s school and checked on security measures.

“People get nervous, they get upset and concerned about copycat situations, and I don’t blame them,” said Brian Harris, the superintendent at Wheaton Warrenville Community Unit School District 200, which operates 13 elementary schools.

He said the district is not doing anything different today: “We have heightened awareness, but no particular action at this point.”

Harris said D200 schools do safety and security drills along with fire and tornado drills about three or four times each school year. Depending on the situation being practiced, students practice being on “lockdown” by staying in a locked classroom with the lights off and out of the line of a sight of an intruder.

They also practice evacuating the school, he said. The safety drills have gone on for more than 10 years at the district, Harris said. After the Columbine shootings in 1999, Harris said most school districts put drills like that in place.

Scott Clay, superintendent of East Maine School District 63 in Des Plaines, said the district’s schools all practice a “lockdown  drill,” which is what would be used if an armed person was in the building.

“Everything gets locked that can be locked,” he said. “Teachers move children into a spot in the classroom as far from windows as possible so they’re out of sight of anybody walking through the hallways or by the windows. The children are taught to remain there quietly. Other staff are assigned to check the bathrooms when the signal is called.”

Superintendent Sarah Jerome said the outside doors to all of Arlington Heights School District 25's schools are kept locked during school hours, and visitors must be buzzed in from the front entrance and state their business at the reception desk.

"Safety is a major factor (for locking the doors) and we want to be sure we’ve done everything we can do to create a safe environment for our children," Jerome said.  "We’re prepared as best as one can for something like this, but when someone is intent on doing harm, it’s hard to predict every scenario."

Sandy Martin, superintendent of Butler Elementary School District 53 in Oak Brook, said that she was stunned by the news of the Connecticut shooting.

"It's a huge tragedy," she said. "My heart goes out to everyone in that community. My stomach hurts. I can't even watch it."

She said the district has not received any calls from concerned parents, but she has called Oak Brook Police and asked for additional patrols at dismissal time.

"It's a reassurance to our parents just so they know we're mindful of this," she said.

This story was reported by Tribune staff and written by Rex Huppke.


©2012 the Chicago Tribune

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