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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Tragedy and prevention: Local schools have plans in place if unthinkable happens

Sunday, December 16, 2012

(Photo)
The flag flies at half-mast Saturday at Harris Middle School near a reserved parking place for the facility's student resource officer. Harris Middle has known tragedy, as Shelley Jones Mook was a reading teacher at the school before her disappearance on Feb. 28, 2011.
(T-G Photo by David Melson)
FIRST IN A SERIES

Friday morning's tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., hit close to home for many local parents and teachers, who hugged the children in their care a little tighter that usual.

"As an art educator, when I heard about what happened, I immediately began picturing the faces of the kindergartners I teach," said Andrea McTigue of Southside Elementary.

"I thought about the terror that those poor babies experienced right before they died so senselessly, about the hero teachers who put on brave faces and tried to protect their students as best as they could."

Each Bedford County school has a safety plan in place, and most have conducted drills this year to practice what to do in either a lockdown situation or an evacuation.

"It's like a fire drill. Nobody plans for a fire, but you still do fire drills," said Sgt. Bob Filer of the Bedford County Sheriff's Department in an interview earlier this year.

"Nobody plans for, God forbid, an active shooter, but on campus we have sort of a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to prepare and drill."

Filer is one of a team of student resource officers in place at local middle and high schools. By proximity, many -- but not all -- of the county's elementary schools benefit from the services of having an SRO on staff, a nearly immediate first responder.

"Hopefully we will never have to put our plan in action, but it is comforting to know that we have one in place," said McTigue. "Are we prepared? We are as prepared as we can be. The teachers in Connecticut had a safety plan too and I truly believe that if they hadn't have had a plan, it could have been much worse."

"Even with locked doors, the shooter broke the glass, unlocked the door and started the massacre," said Amy Martin, Chair of the Bedford County Board of Education.

"I believe Bedford County continues to do all they can do to protect our students, but I feel certain we will look at our measures that are in place to ensure that our students, faculty and staff can feel safe."

In the event of a lockdown at a school, parents are advised to call the school system's central office for information and to be patient.

"I hope that the sheriff's office and the Board of Education has a sufficient reputation with the community to allow them to trust us," said Filer. "I hope that's the case, because that trust is what is going to allow that plan to work.

"It's a shame that we have to have a safety plan at all," said McTigue.