US schools under police guard after mass killing

Education administrators provide increased patrols and counsellors to ease the fears of worried parents, students and staff.

Manuel Moreno, right, walks his daughter Jady, 6, to the Morris Street elementary school in Danbury, Connecticut. Parents and teachers have tried to quell children’s fears about returning to school since the Newtown killings.
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MIAMI // By the time Richard Cantlupe received the news of the Connecticut school shooting that left 20 children dead, his students had gone home for the weekend.

So the American history teacher at Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Florida, was bracing himself for an onslaught of painful, often unanswerable questions when they returned to class yesterday.

"It's going to be a tough day," he said. "This was like our 9/11 for school teachers."

Mr Cantlupe and teachers and parents across the country were wrestling with how best to quell children's fears about returning to school for the first time since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.

School administrators have pledged to add police patrols, review security plans and make guidance counsellors available.

Yet it was pretty near impossible to eliminate the anxiety and apprehension many were feeling.

"For them, you need to pretend that you're OK," said Jessica Kornfeld, the mother of 10-year-old twins in Pinecrest, Florida. "But it's scary."

Stefan Pryor, the Connecticut education commissioner, said his agency was sending a letter to school superintendents across the state, providing a list of written prompts for classroom teachers to help them to address the shooting with their students.

"In many instances, teachers will want to discuss the events because they are so recent and so significant, but they won't necessarily know how to go about it," he said.

Mr Cantlupe said he would tell his students that his main priority was to keep them safe, and that, like the teachers in Connecticut, he would do anything to make sure they stayed out of harm's way. He is also beginning to teach about the Constitution and expects to take questions on the Second Amendment, which includes the right to keep and bear arms.

"It's going to lead right into the controversy over gun control," he said.

In an effort to ensure their students' safety and calm parents' nerves, school districts in the US have asked police departments to increase patrols and have sent messages to parents outlining safety plans that they assured them were regularly reviewed and rehearsed.

Some officials refused to discuss plans publicly, or in any detail, but it was clear that vigilance will be high this week at schools everywhere in the aftermath of one of the worst mass shootings in US history: 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, most of them children aged 6 and 7. The attacker, Adam Lanza, then shot and killed himself.

Fairfax County Public Schools in North Virginia, the largest school system in the Washington area with about 181,000 students, will provide additional police patrols and counsellors.

"This is not in response to any specific threat, but rather a police initiative to enhance safety and security around the schools and to help alleviate the understandably high levels of anxiety," superintendent Jack Dale said on Sunday.

Dennis Carlson, the superintendent of Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, said a mental-health consultant would meet school officials and there would be three associates - one to work with the elementary, middle and high schools, respectively.

As the day went on, officials would be on the lookout for any issues that arose, and extra help would go where needed.

"We are concerned for everybody - our staff and student body and parents," Mr Carlson said. "It's going to be a day where we are all going to be hypervigilant, I know that."

Many schools held a moment of silence yesterday and flew flags at half-mast.

Meanwhile, at home, many parents were trying their best to allay their children's fears while coping with their own. Ms Kornfeld said her town is a lot like Newtown: a place where people generally feel safe being at home without the doors locked and playing outside after school.

"Why would that happen there?" she asked. "It kind of rocks everything."