Schools are usually thought of a safe place for children and teachers — a haven from dangers in the outside world.
When that belief is shaken to its core, such as the case with the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., one begins to wonder what can be done to prevent similar acts.
Understandably, schools in Harford County, and most likely throughout the country, are taking a close look at their safety procedures to ensure their facilities have protocols in place to help prevent a similar tragedy from happening in their hometown.
Monday night's Harford County Board ofEducationmeeting started on a solemn note, taking a minute to reflect on Friday's tragedy in Newtown.
Board President Rick Grambo asked everyone in attendance to have a moment of silence to honor the people affected by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Superintendent Robert Tomback followed by assuring the public that the Harford County Public Schools system does everything it can to provide a safe place for students and teachers, as well as enforce the procedures in place to keep the schools safe.
"I want to reinforce with all of our students and families and citizens in Harford County that the safety of our students and staff is always our first priority," Tomback said.
Each school has a "critical incident plan," he stated, which includes holding practice drills throughout the year.
"Harford County Public Schools has an excellent working relationship with local and state police, fire and EMS agencies," Tomback said. In addition, each school has a visitor management system to monitor those who visit any school.
HCPS teachers will work along with guidance counselors to provide students an outlet to speak about their feelings on the tragedy and/or need support. This will continue, Tomback said, "as long as necessary" and encouraged the conversations to continue at home with families.
Madelyn Ball, principal of the John Carroll School, said she had a meeting Monday morning with staff to discuss the school's procedures and what, if anything, can be changed.
Students are taking exams all week before the holiday break, but once they return in the new year, Ball said lockdown drills are planned.
In case of a lockdown, John Carroll's policy is to make sure every student is in a classroom, lock the doors and stay away from doors and windows.
There's always a situation, however, where some students are outside of a classroom in the cafeteria, hallway or gymnasium and, because of this, Ball said the school is working on a procedure to address that.
The purpose of the drills, she continued, is to "minimize the harm" that can happen. "I don't think any of us can, in a school, prevent some of these things from happening, but we can do the best we can."
Susan Harris, head of Harford Day School, said they have emergency plans in place that have been developed in conjunction with advice from Bel Air Police.
In addition, the school practices drills "routinely."
"We're always reviewing our procedures and this event [in Connecticut] only heightens our awareness," Harris said, adding they will revisit their policies.
Plans are also in place for "speedy communication with parents," she continued.
Over the weekend Harris wrote to the parents and provided age-appropriate resources on how to talk to their children about the tragedy.