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Folsom school officials say kids safe in district

By: Laura Newell, Of the Telegraph
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The recent school shooting in Connecticut brought tears and uproar to people throughout the country, and locally, community members are working together to stay safe and prepared.

Folsom Cordova Unified School District Superintendent Debbie Bettencourt posted a statement after the shooting on the district website to kids and parents.

She wrote, “The event may impact our students and staff, and could result in manifestations of fear and/or symptoms of anxiety.”

She went on to say, “Should you be aware of anyone, including yourself, exhibiting signs of distress, we encourage you to seek appropriate help for these individuals. Our counselors and psychologists can provide resources for initial assistance and referrals to professional counseling.”

Bettencourt said the California Department of Education’s “Coping with Tragedy” website, at cde.ca.gov/ls/ss/cp/tragedy.asp, includes links to articles on talking to kids about violence, and helping children deal with tragic events.

She also suggested reading information from “Tips and Resources for Teachers and Parents” at thirteen.org/edonline/tips.html.

“Incidents like this serve as a reminder why it is so important that all staff and students are well-versed on our emergency plan,” Bettencourt said. “While no plan can prevent tragedies from occurring; keeping our plans current and practicing our safety protocols may help save lives.”

The district currently has steps in place to address student and staff safety issues through the adoption of a District-wide Emergency Response Plan, said Bettencourt. The plan would be implemented in the event of a local disaster or school emergency.

“Statistics show schools are still among the safest places to be on a day-to-day basis, due to the strong commitment of educators, parents, and communities to their children,” Bettencourt said. “Nevertheless,

disasters do happen and, because of that, no community can be complacent in its efforts to make its schools even safer.”

The plan first includes drills to prepare all members of the school community, including your child, to act on a moment’s notice, we will be conducting emergency practice drills at the school.

These drills will happen on a periodic basis throughout the year and cover a variety of circumstances.

According to Bettencourt, the Emergency Response Plan also incorporates a systematic approach to reuniting children with their parents. The plan identifies two possible sites for the Parent-Child Reunion Center associated with your child’s school. The first site is located on the school grounds. The second site is located at the School Emergency Evacuation Center – this location is activated only when the school premises must be evacuated.

“Due to the unpredictable nature of any emergency, we will only be able to tell you where the Parent-Child Reunion Center is located at the time of the emergency,” she said. “Should it be necessary to activate (them), you will be notified of the location via the district’s mass communication system.”

There will also be strict guidelines when parents reunite with a child.

No student will be released unless you or an individual designated on the student’s Emergency Information Card.

Parents will also be required to present valid identification to protect a child from any unauthorized individuals attempting to pick him or her up. Parents will also be required to sign for the release of the child.

“We recognize that you may be worried and want to be reunited with your child as quickly as possible,” she said. “However, this system has been established to ensure your child’s safety. You may be jeopardizing your child’s or another child’s safety by not adhering to these procedures.”

During a real emergency, she said parents probably will not be able to reach the school by phone, as staff will be busy responding to the emergency and the needs of the students. School officials will make every effort to contact parents, either directly, or through the district’s mass communication system.

The district will also keep parents informed by posting information and updates regarding the emergency on the district’s website and voice recordings on the District’s Community Hotline, (916) 294-9099 or fcusd.org.

Sgt. Jason Browning, with the Folsom Police Department, said the department works closely with the school district to ensure the safety of every student and staff member.

“We always reflect on our practices after a tragic incident occurs. The Folsom Police Department is prepared to respond to incidents such as we’ve seen in Aurora, Colo., and at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.,” Browning said. “The schools and the police department do discuss, privately, a plan for handling incidents such as what happened in Columbine and recently in Connecticut. Our police officers are also trained in a coordinated response. … We are prepared, we train for such incidents, and we insure our officers have access to the necessary equipment to protect the public.”

Hector Alvarez, of Folsom, runs Alvarez Associates, a security consulting firm based out of Northern California, specializing in workplace violence prevention and management.

Alvarez said after the news of the shooting, the common question among people was: How can we protect our companies, communities and families?

He said the best answer is to get involved and speak up.

“Trust your intuition, if it sounds like a gunshot, it probably is. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not,” Alvarez said. “Do something, anything. People have a tendency to freeze if they haven’t planned ahead. So have a plan.”

He said the best way to have a working plan and understand it, is to talk about it often and practice it.

“Develop a family code word to discreetly notify each other if there is a threat,” he said. “(When in danger) move away from the violence. If you can’t get out, hide and barricade yourself. Scared crowds rushing for an exit can be very dangerous. Think of them like riptides, let the initial wave pass, move diagonally or find an alternative exit.”

Alvarez is a Folsom resident of 15 years; both of his children attend school in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District.

“I work closely with my local schools because I want to help, this is my community,” he said. “This will take a community response to help and get through this situation. In my opinion, it comes down to parents and friends staying involved. As parents we need to stay involved with our kid’s lives, so we can see any changes in their behavior. Parents need to be able to accept what is truly going on. The reality is you need to look for the change in personal behavior. Once you start looking and accept the change; you need to then be willing to say something. These acts of violence are preventable – we just have to be willing to stay involved and be engaged. Every little step that we take will help prevent these types of actions from reoccurring.”

For more information, visit workviolenceprevention.com.