By Scott Levine
As news began to spread Friday about a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, Clinton resident Jennifer Austin’s phone became flooded with messages.
Parents were questioning Austin, the city’s Parent-Teacher Association president, about Clinton schools’ safety in light of another scho-ol shooting. Those same fears hit home with Au-stin, who along with husband Tony, a Wash-ington Middle School instructor, has two daughters in elementary school.
But despite the constant reality of an incident like this happening anywhere, Austin is confident in the school’s security.
“A lot of people just want to know if there is a plan in place,” Austin said. “And there is. The teachers know what to do.
“Being in the elementary school all the time, I know that the kids are safe. And the kids know what to do, too.” The Clinton School District recently went through ALICE training in order to be ready for threatening emergency events including those with an active shooter.
Clinton Superintendent Deb Olson said the district must be prepared for any situation.
“We try to be as proactive as can be, but we hope we never have to deal with something like this,” Olson said. “We have to be prepared because we are responsible for these children.”
Using the new system, students and staff are trained to exit the building if they are not in “the hot zone,” the area where the shooter is located.
The first step of the system is to alert using clear and concise language to convey the type of event and location. Students and staff also are encouraged to use 911 in the case of emergency events.
Lockdown will still be used as a part of the system, but will not be the only line of defense staff and students are trained to follow. The third step is to inform and keep accurate and constant information coming.
Austin said the PTA can help answer any question that parents pose about safety.
Also, the national PTA has links on its website discussing how parents can talk about school violence with children.
“Now, it just seems like it’s so real,” Austin said. “There’s a possibility this could happen. Now, we have to think about what we would do. And I talked to my girls about it, and they know what to do.”
Under the new system in the Clinton School District, students and staff also are trained to counter whatever threat they may face using the resources in the classrooms. Lastly, they are trained to evacuate, which involves staff using their resources to keep an intruder out of a classroom, identify items that can be used for first aid and, finally, how to escape once the intruder(s) is no longer a threat in the area they are in. Clinton schools have three school resource officers who are each assigned to cover specific schools. SRO's have a presence in all schools throughout the district. Also, Clinton has a security system to enter every building.
River Bend School District in Fulton, Ill., also practices how to act when confronted with a breach of security.
Superintendent Chuck Holliday said the district meets annually with local law enforcement and the fire department.
“Safety at our school is top priority,” Holliday said. “It’s all about maintaining a routine acting on things as safely as we can.”
Herald Staff Writers Natalie Conrad and Katie Dahlstrom contributed to this article.