Message From Superintendent on Newtown Tragedy

Superintendent of Schools Joe Sawyer sent this statement in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

Dear Shrewsbury Families,

I know that you, like me, have been reflecting on the senseless tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. As a school administrator, former elementary teacher and principal, and parent of young children, I identify closely with those affected and am deeply saddened by the deaths of the innocent children and the heroic educators who tried to protect them.

The grief that Newtown is experiencing is overwhelming, and given that community's relative proximity and similarity to our own town, it is both natural and disturbing to consider the potential, however unlikely, of a similar event happening here. I want to communicate how our school district is responding to this event, including how our educators will respond to your children tomorrow and what we are doing to review our safety and security protocols.

Responding to the needs of our children:

• On Monday morning, prior to school opening, all district educators will attend a briefing by their school principal to ensure that all staff are on the same page regarding how to respond to children's questions and/or concerns.

• At the preschool through elementary levels, teachers will not directly raise the topic of the shootings; however, it is very likely that some students may ask questions about it. If this is the case, teachers will answer questions in matter of fact, age appropriate ways that do not give details, and provide reassurance that school is a safe place.

• At the middle and high school levels, teachers will make a brief statement about the event during homeroom time and provide a limited opportunity for an appropriate discussion based on the age of the students. Administrators may also reference the topic during morning announcements. Again, reassuring students about their safety at school is key.

• At all levels, educators will monitor their students and will ensure that any student who demonstrates the need will receive assistance from an administrator, nurse, counselor, psychologist, or other appropriate person.

• At all levels, educators will do their best to model calmness and caring while providing our students with the sense of normalcy and predictability that comes from following routines.

School safety and security:

• I want to reassure you that school safety and security is always a priority of the Shrewsbury Public Schools. Each school has an emergency plan and conducts safety drills each year; each classroom has a flipchart to help staff manage different potential emergencies; and school principals and central office administrators conduct mock disaster drills, including having done so with a school shooting scenario just this past summer.

• On Friday afternoon, I met with principals and district administrators, Chief of Police James Hester, Town Manager Daniel Morgado, and Assistant to the Town Manager Thomas Gregory to discuss our safety and security practices in light of the events that occurred that day. Chief Hester and I want to make sure that you know that there are two School Resource Officers who are present in our schools, that the Shrewsbury Police are specifically trained to respond to school emergencies, and that we have excellent lines of communication between our departments.

• On Monday morning, all staff, including educators, support staff, and custodians, will be reminded of the importance of strong supervision of our school environment and to immediately report anything that seems suspicious or out of place. We will continue to welcome our parents and other volunteers into our schools, but anyone who is not displaying a visitor badge will be redirected and reported as appropriate -- please help us by following our schools' procedures for visitors.

• Given the state of anxiety many are experiencing, we will increase the level of our vigilance in the coming days while continuing to review our practices and procedures.

It is important to remember that, despite this most recent event, schools are one of the safest places in our society. The research is clear that the most important things schools can do to be safe is to create positive, trusting environments where students feel comfortable talking to adults and to have systems in place to ensure that educators are closely monitoring students' behavior. Violent acts, especially random ones perpetrated by outsiders, are extremely rare.

Unfortunately, no one can guarantee that something bad will never happen in our schools. As a fellow parent, I wish I could tell you that instituting a certain practice would prevent any harm from befalling our children, but that can never be the case. This is an unsettling fact for all of us, but I hope that you, like me, will have confidence that our educators and our public safety officers have been and will continue to be proactive and vigilant when it comes to the well being of our community's children.


Joe Sawyer
Superintendent of Schools


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