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'Your child's safety is our No. 1 priority' | Kent School District superintendent reacts to Connecticut tragedy

Edward Lee Vargas, Kent School District superintendent. - COURTESY PHOTO
Edward Lee Vargas, Kent School District superintendent.
— image credit: COURTESY PHOTO

Edward Lee Vargas, Kent School District superintendent, posted the following message, safety procedures and tips on helping children cope with emotions after tragic events on the district website.

Dear KSD Families,

I want to reach out to you and share some thoughts regarding the recent tragedy in Connecticut.

First, let me say that as a father, I was impacted profoundly by the senseless deaths of innocent children. I cannot imagine the sorrow being felt by the families in Newtown, but my sympathies rest with them and I pray their community and school leaders will provide the guidance and strength they now need.

As the superintendent of our district, much of my emotion had to be put on hold Friday as staff and I focused on helping our students, schools, and parents cope with this horrific tragedy. The nature of random incidents like these can make us all feel very vulnerable and it is natural to want to know that our own school and community are doing all it can to protect our children from harm.

I want to personally reassure you that the safety and well-being of your child is of the utmost importance to us at KSD and that we have done and will continue to do all we can to insulate our students from danger.

Below you will find information about our safety and security procedures here in the Kent School District. In addition, included are some ideas about how you can help your child deal with this tragedy as well.

As a community and as a school district, we all share the responsibilities and concerns about keeping our children safe. I hope the information below reinforces the trust you have in our systems and in our schools.

You will be hearing more about this in the days and months to come but for now, please know that your child’s safety is, has been, and always will be our number one priority.

Kent School District safety procedures

The Kent School District has extensive and thorough crisis response plans that address a full-range of emergency situations. Each individual school is prepared for these crisis situations. District and school plans have been developed in coordination with both King County and Kent Police emergency responders and the state department of Emergency Management. Our preparedness should be a source of reassurance to our students and families.

The following precautionary measures in place:

• The Kent School District has a great collaboration with local authorities including police, fire, and other first responder services. The district and schools rehearse situational response and precautionary procedures regularly.

• Each school has a very detailed emergency response plan that is tailored to that school’s specific needs and location and is constantly updated to meet changing threat levels.

• Lockdown drills are regularly conducted at all KSD schools plus several other drills that cover possible scenarios such as fire, flood, and earthquake, etc. During intruder drills, a lockdown is announced, classrooms and hallway doors are locked, blinds are closed, lights are turned off and students are required to sit away from doors and windows. 911 is called and police, fire, and our own safety service professionals respond immediately.

• KSD Safety Services Department is led by a Lt. Commander of the Kent Police Department and a KSD Assistant Superintendent. The department has a full time manger and a number of well-equipped and highly trained uniformed safety officers as well as fully deputized police officers.

• Security procedures are reviewed and updated regularly. For example - Meeker Middle School just practiced an intruder drill in which a KSD officer pretended to be an intruder. The officer entered the school without a badge and the school staff responded accordingly by recording information on the intruder and going through the motions of requesting assistance.

• Local law enforcement and Kent School District participate in “active shooter” trainings each year. This is scenario-based training so they know how to respond if someone comes into a school with a gun or intent on any other violent act.

• KSD has detailed emergency procedures in place for a variety of scenarios and conduct training sessions annually.

• KSD Emergency Response Information flip charts are designed to be in every common area and classroom. The chart has instructions on what to do during a lockdown.

The most important safety and security assets are KSD staff. The Kent School District is made up of over 3,300 well trained and caring professionals who put student safety first and are vigilant in their efforts to identify, report, and respond appropriately to dangerous situations.

What parents and dailies can so to help their child

Parents are our students’ first and most important teachers. A thoughtful parental approach to age-appropriate discussion is important for children to cope with the emotions that naturally follow tragic events. As hard as it is to talk among adults about such a tragedy, it can be even more difficult to talk with students and our own children. The link: Helping Youth and Children Recover from Traumatic Events contains some information that might be helpful.

These are some specific suggestions for things you can do at home:

• Listen to and accept children’s feelings.

• Give honest, simple, brief answers to their questions.

• Use words or phrases that won’t confuse a child or make the world more frightening.

• Create opportunities for children to talk with each other about what happened and how they are feeling.

• If your child asks the same question over and over again it is because they are trying to understand and make sense out of the disruption and confusion in their world. Younger children will not understand that death is permanent, so their repeated inquiries are because they expect everything to return to normal.

• When talking with your child, emphasize that no one, least of all the child, could have prevented it.

• Even if you feel the world is an unsafe place, you can reassure your child by saying, “The event is over. Now we’ll do everything possible to stay safe, and together we can help get things back to normal.”

• Be especially loving and supportive; children need you even more at this time.

School counselors, teachers, support staff, and principals are always available to help. If you have concerns about your child and would like the counselor to speak with him or her in private, please contact the district or your child’s school office.

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