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At the Levine Academy in Dallas, Head of School Mark Stolovitsky said that in seeking an age-appropriate way to talk about the shooting, the events in Connecticut were explained in terms of Bible or Disney stories. Like the stories of Purim or Passover, the children understand the concept of a “bad guy,” he said. “We want kids to feel safe in school, but we also need to tell kids that there are bad men who do bad things,” he said.
Levine Academy is also considering a new school entrance strategy. Currently, only one of the school’s two entrances is guarded by armed security. After the shooting, Stolovitsky said his staff will explore ways for all all students to enter through the same door.
“I also think we need to change our mindset and be more vigilant,” Stolovitsky said. “Make sure you stop people wandering around your school you don’t recognize, even if they are smiling. And we need to keep practicing emergency drills, where children know how to hide out of plain sight. This is why we have drills. It’s unlikely it will happen, but we need to be prepared.”
While hiring armed guards and improving security systems might be obvious steps, school administrators also say they don’t want to turn their facilities into fortified prisons. Levine noted that at Sandy Hook Elementary, the shooter, Lanza, was able to force his way inside despite the school’s impressive security system.
“The Connecticut school was locked. They did all the right things, and this somehow happened,” Levine said.
“We have security cameras, we feel safe,” Stolovitsky added. “We could choose to have metal detectors and provide a whole new stage of security. But we live in an open, free society and this is a school. The security needs to be appropriate.”
Finell says the most important role for educators or parents briefing kids about the shooting is to remain calm. At his school, teachers led discussions about the shooting but waited for children in younger grades to initiate. The school is also planning an optional memorial service. Finell stressed the importance of not getting too visibly emotional.
“These kids are looking to us for their emotional cues,” he said. “We can’t show any fear or let them know how upset we are by all of this. We need to be reassuring at times like these and talk to them about all the safety precautions we are doing, show them that our No. 1 goal is to take care of them.”