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Last updated: Tue. Dec. 18, 2012 - 09:05 am EDT

Allen County schools, parents have safety on minds after Connecticut massacre

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Kathie Green had a sobering talk with her 16-year-old daughter this weekend.

“What would you do,” Green asked her daughter, if someone came into your school and started shooting, as a man did Friday in a massacre that left 26 people – including 20 young children – dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Green, president of the Fort Wayne Area Parent Teacher Association, said she believes Fort Wayne Community Schools has good safety precautions in place to help prevent a similar massacre. But she won't rule anything out.

“As a parent at whatever level, this just tugs at your heart, and every parent I know realizes this could happen anywhere at anytime,” Green said. “Fort Wayne Community Schools could do everything to keep our kids safe, and it could still happen.”

The Connecticut gunman, Adam Lanza, forced his way into the school with an AR-15 assault rifle and two handguns. He killed 20 children, mostly 6-year-olds, and six adults before taking his own life. He also killed his mother in New Jersey before going to the school.

Allen County's four public school districts established a variety of safety precautions in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo. The security measures, which vary slightly between districts, include the following:

- Doors stay locked all day, and visitors must buzz in at the front door.

- Police officers and security professionals patrol high schools.

- Doors are numbered to streamline emergency response and evacuation plans.

- Surveillance cameras have been added.

- Even the youngest children, like the first-graders who were gunned down in Connecticut, take part in regular drills to learn exactly what to do if someone opens fire.

“The majority of schools are very safe places, but nobody can put their head in the sand and believe it'll never happen here,” said Anita Gross, a district social worker with Southwest Allen County Schools. “You have to be prepared for the reality that it can happen.”

Fort Wayne Community Schools posts a uniformed police officer in each of its high schools, plus contracted security guards, said FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman. The school resource officers, though based at high schools, also can respond quickly to nearby middle and elementary schools, Stockman said.

All FWCS students, from kindergarten to high school, participate in regular lockdown drills and know what to do if an “active shooter” is in the building, Stockman said. The county's other districts also conduct lockdown drills.

The Allen County Sheriff's Department provides one school resource officer each to Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools – based at Carroll and Homestead high schools, respectively – said Cpl. Jeremy Tinkel, a spokesman for the sheriff's department.

Gross, with SACS, said vigilant students, teachers and parents remain the most effective defense against school violence.

“Our best safety measures are your people – well-trained people that keep their eyes open,” she said. “I think in today's society, educators realize anything can happen.”

But if someone did open fire in a local school, police would move quickly to neutralize the threat, whether the person was a student or outsider, such as Lanza, the Newtown shooter, Tinkel said.

“A shooter's a shooter, and we wouldn't treat anyone different, whether it's an adult or a student,” Tinkel said.

Tinkel said the sheriff's department does not provide an officer to East Allen County Schools. Karyle Green, the EACS superintendent, could not immediately be reached for comment about the district's security measures.

While Kathie Green, of the Fort Wayne Area PTA, believes local schools are safe, the Connecticut massacre likely had many parents imagining their children in the same situation, she said.

“I'm betting a bunch of parents had that conversation with their kids this weekend,” she said.

csheckler@news-sentinel.com


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