Ensuring student safety

Officials say area schools are safe
Dec. 21, 2012 @ 11:33 PM

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has stirred up concerns for many parents with children in school, but officials at Sevierville Primary School (SPS) assured that Sevier County Schools have very reliable systems for handling any kind of issue.

School Resource Officer (SRO) Leia Loveday said several parents approached her with questions after the shooting, understandably.

"Imagine how scary pulling into the school Monday morning would have been after hearing about that," Loveday said.

School guidance counselor Glenda Parrish said parents have come to her with questions, too.

"I think they wanted reassurance," Parrish said. "I don't think they felt like there was any issue, but they wanted that reassurance."

But there have also been positive sentiments from parents, thanking school officials for their efforts in keeping their children safe.

"I've seen nothing but positive reflections from the parents," Loveday said. "They've been extremely on edge and have questions. We've been there to answer their questions because we want them to feel comfortable and to ask questions when they arise."

She said some parents wanted to know what the school was doing to enhance its safety policies, but SPS Principal Harriet Berrier said parents have been asking these kinds of questions "because I don't think they realize what we do have in place."

The school doesn't broadcast safety policies and procedures so, as Loveday said, "they don't fall into the wrong hands," but she noted that the school follows state policies that are "the best of the best."

Loveday and other SROs are perhaps where protection and safety begin at the schools. Berrier said the implementation of SROs in every school in the system is one of the "finest things that's ever happened to the county."

"We are one of the few systems that has an SRO in every school," Berrier said. "I feel so much more at ease and safer with (Loveday) here. The kids are not afraid ... and we want them to feel like they're safe. And I think they do."

Faculty at the school did not inform the students of the shooting; at such young ages, Berrier felt it best to leave that up to the parents. Even so, Loveday said she believes there are some students who do know what happened, but Parrish said none of the students have approached her with safety concerns.

"I haven't had any issues," Parrish said. "They've been wonderful, and I think because Leia (Loveday) is such a presence here and they know her. She goes to classes and they see her and they trust that. I think they all feel safe."

Loveday said the school remains on lock-down virtually all of the day, aside from one door leading to Loveday's post and the front office. Since the tragedy, the open door has been manned at all times, extra law enforcement personnel have kept watch over the school, and Loveday allows restricted access.

She said the area schools have been on Level 2 lock-down since the shooting, which basically means children are not allowed to go outside.

The school also has 16 cameras monitoring various locations throughout the school, including entrances and exits.

Teachers have copies of safety procedures as well as "tool bags," safety kits equipped with things like Band-Aids, markers, early dismissals, copies of emergency cards, wipes, duct tape, even snacks.

"I'm completely confident that we know what we're going to do, and we're all in good communication with each other," Loveday said.

She said the school drills for emergency situations monthly to ensure every student and teacher knows what to do in any situation.

But even more reassuring is the fact that Loveday, who works for the Sevier County Sheriff Department, is in constant contact with that agency. The department notifies Loveday if any situation occurs in a two-mile radius of the school, or if there's an issue at another school.

She said all the local law enforcement agencies back each other up and are good at communicating with one another.

"That is so important; it's a strong value for a county," Loveday said. "If something's happening in this community, the SROs are notified about it."

Loveday and Parrish admitted that the shooting has heightened their awareness.

"You start noticing things," Parrish said. "People in the hallway, someone who might come to the door."

But Loveday said that might help them remember not to be lax on the job.

"You cannot become comfortable in your routine," she said.

rhargett@themountainpress.com