Twenty-six people, including 20 elementary school students age 6 or 7, died last Friday in a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary. The shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, killed himself as police arrived. Lanza also shot and killed his mother at her home prior to the assault at the school, police have said.
Counseling services have been made available to local students who want to discuss their feelings, said Taryn Kay, fourth- through sixth-grade principal at Helen M. Knight Elementary School. Kay is also the coordinator for the school district’s Comprehensive Emergency Preparedness Plan.
“We also went to the schools to see how people were feeling... One thing we’re very concerned about is how kids and parents react to this, ” said Grand County School District Superintendent Scott Crane. “We feel safe in Moab. But what we will concentrate on now are those students, parents and teachers who may [need help coping].”
Antje Rath, a mental health counselor in Moab, said the best thing parents can do for their children is allow them to express their feelings and ask questions.
“Children become more anxious when they feel they can’t talk about certain subjects. I always recommend that parents answer kids’ questions as they come, without overwhelming them with too much information or details,” Rath said. “Don’t use euphemisms but use simple, appropriate language. Don’t promise anything you can’t keep but also explain how rare occasions like a shooting or any kind of murder are.”
She said it is also important to talk to kids about safety issues and to be honest when a parent does not know the answer to a question.
“Try to instill a sense of safety and hope in your child, not a sense of hate and anger,” Rath said.
The school district also sent teachers and administrators a list of suggestions for helping children cope with a tragedy. That list included many of the same tips offered by Rath.
“One thing we’re doing is remaining calm...,” Crane said. “They want to make sure they’re safe.”
He said the school district updated its safety procedures in October.
Kay said Grand County schools conduct regular drills, including monthly fire drills where students are evacuated from the buildings, an annual earthquake drill and two lockdown drills each school term.
“We practice seriously,” Kay said, adding that local law enforcement agencies are alerted when a drill is planned and usually come to the schools.
Crane expressed confidence in the district’s emergency plan, adding that the committee is always considering new ways to make the schools more safe.
“You never can do enough. Every incident is different,” he said. “You pray that you never have to deal with it. Never.”