By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Local schools reopened Monday after the tragedy in Connecticut, and emergency plans are being evaluated as a normal part of business as well as in light of the incident.
Dunkirk school Superintendent Gary Cerne told the OBSERVER he called for a staff meeting Monday morning before classes began.
"What I asked my administration to do last Friday was to meet with staff first thing this morning so everyone could share their concerns and ideas," he explained.
Cerne said, "It's a tough thing but something you have to be constantly thinking about. ... It's the nature of where we are in our society."
Emergency policies are updated and evaluated on a regular basis, he said.
"We continue to review our plan constantly, and people are being more aware all the time," he said.
Cerne added that renovation projects at the elementary and middle schools have focused on safety. He said schools 3, 4 and 5 each have been fitted with secure lobbies with the renovations, but, "School 7 is a historic building and we can't make those drastic changes."
Cerne said the primary goal of the school administration and faculty is to make sure students are safe, but he also said the goal of Monday's meeting was to reassure teachers as well. "We believe in open communication. Teachers can't teach if they're worried," he explained and added, "It was also an opportunity for them to come in and share their concerns. ... We did get some good feedback from those discussions."
Open communication between students and adults at the school, Cerne said, is also a priority. "If kids understand something is going on, they have to feel comfortable talking to adults. ... Kids often have a lot of information and parents need to let us know if something is going on and help us that way, too," he explained.
"A lot of times students know what's going on before adults," Cerne said, and explained "if we create an atmosphere where kids feel comfortable to come and talk to us," problems can potentially be averted.
"We will continue to examine how we do things and look to see what other people are doing. If other people have better ideas, we're going to use them."
At Fredonia Central Schools, Superintendent Paul DiFonzo said safety is always a concern. "Let me say that we obviously always are concerned about following safety procedures in our school. We have a safety plan in place that we follow," and said vigilance is a priority.
"We are very vigilant about making sure that people go through our buzzer system when they enter the school," he said. "Obviously, with the tragedy that just occurred we're always concerned with suspicious behaviors and being vigilant."
DiFonzo said the board of education approved the most recent updates to the safety plan at last week's board of education meeting. He said this event and others like it are the reason "why we're always updating our safety plan," and added, "It's a constant concern for me, something I'm always worried about."
DiFonzo said the school is also prepared to handle emotional needs students may have after such an intense incident. "We try to have appropriate services available when students need them. Our staff is aware students may be reacting differently," to the news of the event.
Pick-up procedures for pre-K students were modified on Monday. DiFonzo said, "Basically we're having parents picking up pre-K students stand in the foyer area because it's an extra precaution. It's better to not have parents and grandparents wandering down the halls, he explained. "We'll probably maintain doing that. It was more organized and parents didn't seem to mind."
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