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On the day a gunman killed 20 students — 28 people total, including himself — at a Connecticut elementary school, Clark County’s school districts dealt with the tragedy in different ways.
When news of the massacre broke Friday morning, many schools were well into their last lessons before winter vacation. But as details of the shooting spread, school districts felt an obligation to address it head-on.
In Vancouver, a call went out for extra security.
Vancouver Public Schools called in substitute district resource officer and deployed those to schools “as quickly as practical, so all of our secondary schools will have district resource officers,” said Tom Hagley, Vancouver Public Schools spokesman.
District resource officers are trained school district security personnel.
The district also called in administrative substitutes, so all elementary schools would be supervised by at least two administrators until winter break begins at the end of school Tuesday.
From Friday until winter break, all Vancouver Public Schools high schools will have a school resource officer — not a district employee, but a police officer with a patrol car. Currently, Hudson’s Bay and Fort Vancouver high schools share a school resource officer, Hagley said, but the district is working with law enforcement agencies to secure a temporary school resource officer for Hudson’s Bay High School.
The district sent a message to all employees about the increased security measures, and that message was sent to all families on Friday via a rapid response auto call program. The message also was translated into Spanish and Russian.
“We’re putting these measures in place up until the start of winter break,” Hagley said. “We want to emphasize there is no known threat in Vancouver Public Schools, but in light of recent events across the country, the district is taking these precautionary measures to ensure our students and staff are safe,” Hagley said.
Also Friday, Fort Vancouver High School was placed in lockdown after a passer-by reported seeing someone shooting a pellet gun at geese, according to Vancouver Public Schools.
Pat Mattison, district spokeswoman, said the school was placed in a modified lockdown, meaning no one could enter the school campus but classes went on as usual, around 12:30 p.m. The school was eventually placed on full lockdown — meaning no one could move inside the school, she said. The lockdown lifted at 1:51 p.m. School was dismissed on time at 2:05 p.m.
According to Mattison, the passer-by reported seeing three people near the campus, one of them shooting at birds.
Kim Kapp, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Police Department, said there were no injuries and no real threat other than public concern about the activity hours after the mass shooting in Newtown.
She said police interviewed a 16-year-old student and seized a pellet gun. The teen was not arrested. Kapp said the district would handle the incident administratively.
Evergreen Public Schools already has school resource officers — uniformed police officers — at all high schools, and security staff at all middle schools and high schools.
“We’re reminding our staff and managers throughout the district to be vigilant,” said Carol Fenstermacher, spokesperson for Evergreen Public Schools.
“At the elementary schools, all the staff works toward security. We have a very good relationship with Vancouver police and Clark County sheriff,” Fenstermacher said. “We’re telling our staff: If they see someone suspicious, make that call. At every school, security is everybody’s business.”
Following Friday’s shooting, there was a heightened security at all district schools and offices in Battle Ground, as well as utter sadness, shock and compassion for the families in Connecticut, said Gregg Herrington, district spokesman.
Assistant Superintendent David Gray, in charge of security for the district, contacted all building principals and asked them to remind school staff to keep all outside doors closed and locked throughout the school day and to encourage all parents to check in at the front office before visiting classrooms.
The district posted on its website: “Employees of Battle Ground Public schools join all Americans today in their sadness over the school shootings in Connecticut. Our hearts go out to all the families touched by this senseless event — and to children everywhere who, like the rest of us, cannot understand why this happened.”
In La Center, the school district has asked the police department to increase its patrols at the district’s campuses, which are less than a mile away.
“It’s not a tremendous extension of resources because of the size of the community,” La Center Superintendent Mark Mansell said.
When it comes to safety on campus, they do as much as they can.
“How can we guarantee 100 percent that something like that (shooting) can’t happen in a school?” Mansell asked.
Washougal School District already has a resource officer on staff at the high school and did not boost security or send a letter home on Friday, its last day of classes before winter break.
The district did post a message on its website, said Superintendent Dawn Tarzian. The message discusses how parents can talk to their children about school safety.
Tarzian said the district learned lessons during its lockdown in December 2011 when Steven Stanbary killed his wife, his wife’s sister and then himself before setting his house on fire. Since then, new emergency policies are in place.
The Camas School District sent an email to parents Friday afternoon, the last day before winter break, said Doreen McKercher, district spokesperson. Each district building has a response plan developed with the local fire, police and the Washington State Patrol.
The district hasn’t added security at the schools, McKercher said.
“We believe our security is very tight at our schools,” McKercher said, adding that both the middle school and high school have resource officers on their campuses.
In Woodland, the emphasis has been on comforting students.
A lot of the kids know what’s going on, and they’re scared, said Woodland Intermediate School Principal John Shoup.
After the shooting, Woodland Intermediate School did lock all the doors except the front doors. “Generally, you try to be as welcoming to folks,” Shoup said. “But in light of this, we took extra precautions.”
Battle Ground, Camas and Washougal districts began winter break at the end of Friday’s school day. Evergreen, La Center, Hockinson and Vancouver districts end on Tuesday. In Ridgefield, the last day of school is Thursday.