Guidance counselors, crisis teams and support staff will be at the ready Monday morning in Howard County schools to speak with students as needed after the shooting at The Mall in Columbia Saturday that left three dead.
"The impact on our community will unfold in the coming days and weeks," Howard County Public School System Renee Foose wrote in an email to parents Saturday night. "School administrators, student services teams and other staff members will have developmentally appropriate resources to use in helping children who are upset as a result of this traumatic event."
In numerous emails to parents, principals expressed condolences for the victims, and outlined what would and would not be happening in schools Monday.
"This tragic event was beyond unsettling to those directly impacted and to those that watched and heard through social media of the violence unfolding at the mall," wrote Clarksville Elementary Principal Kaye Breon. "My heart goes out to the victims, their families and those who were in the mall during this crisis."
Schools spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove said each school would have staff meetings early Monday to review available resources and prepare to respond to students' needs.
In elementary schools, no announcement will be made about the shooting, nor will it be brought up in classroom discussions.
"We know that some students will have many details about what happened, while others will know nothing," wrote Clemens Crossing Elementary School Principal David Larner. "We respect your decision as parents to tell your children as much or as little as you feel is appropriate. With that said, I do anticipate there will be students talking about what happened, so please be prepared for your child to hear something."
Larner said that students who wish to talk will be encouraged to speak with adults in the school, "but will not be punished or made to feel bad for talking to other students."
"We all handle news like this differently, and it is natural for students to have questions," he said.
Foose said resources would also be posted to the school system website for parents and community members.
"We recognize that our students and staff are impacted by this tragic event in a variety of ways," she said. "Students, families and staff members may have been at the Mall in Columbia when this shooting occurred. Others may have heard about this upsetting news via news or social media."
Foose offered tips that could be helpful for parents and guardians, such as assuring children they are safe, making time to talk with them and allowing them to talk about their own feelings and reaction, and validating their feelings and reactions as normal responses to a traumatic event.
Foose and other school officials are asking parents to keep explanations of the shooting developmentally appropriate, review strategies for staying safe at home and in the community, monitoring the emotional states of children in the coming days and limiting the amount of time children spend watching news coverage of the shooting.
"Be aware that older children are being exposed to the tragedy every time they go on the internet and social media sites," Foose wrote. "As older children discuss these events on social media sites, they may be exposed to rumors and detailed information about this tragedy. Please remind your child that social media posts often contain unconfirmed information and consider monitoring their activities on these sites."