Principal Sue Ruch keeps watch over Fairview Elementary students on the school’s playground on a recent day. She said teacher vigilance is the most-effective way to keep kids safe from a school shooting.  Daily Times Herald photo by Jeff Storjohann
Principal Sue Ruch keeps watch over Fairview Elementary students on the school’s playground on a recent day. She said teacher vigilance is the most-effective way to keep kids safe from a school shooting.  Daily Times Herald photo by Jeff Storjohann
More students, ranging in age from 4 to 9, were inside eating breakfast.
The bell rang at 8:10 a.m., and students lined up inside the building. Soon, they walked to their classrooms, where they sat at desks and solved math problems or read.
The outside doors were locked. The kids were safe.
To the east, half of a country away, in another elementary school, the gunshots began.
An allegedly mentally ill man strode into the main office at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and opened fire on the school’s principal.
He was trying to get to a classroom of first-grade students. He carried a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns.
Sandy Hook has a security system similar to Fairview’s, but it didn’t stop him from killing 20 students ages 6 and 7. He shot most of them multiple times.
The unnerving massacre has spurred a nationwide discussion aimed at preventing a similar future tragedy. Fingers are being pointed in so many directions.
At Fairview, school officials are working with a newly installed security system meant to better control who goes in and out of the school each day. The doors lock each school day at 8:30 a.m., and visitors must use an intercom to gain access to the building. Staff in the main office can see who’s at the door with a security camera system.
The trick has been teaching the roughly 750 students there to set aside their politeness and leave the doors shut to strangers.
Principal Sue Ruch said when the security system was first installed at the beginning of the school year, the younger students would open the door and let people in instead of making them wait for the office to buzz them through. They’d see familiar faces, such as the superintendent, and open the door for them thinking they were being nice.
But teachers have been working with students to ensure that doesn’t happen anymore.
Ruch said she’s working to update a new procedure for school lock-down drills — in which teachers and students isolate themselves in classrooms from an intruder — but that she’s still in the process of working with teachers to make sure the new procedure would work. They haven’t yet practiced a lock-down drill with students this year.
Fairview faces a unique issue as well: the classrooms on the north side of the building are separated only by dividers. There are no doors to the rooms, so the only way to lock a room is to lock down the entire pod of rooms.
Adams Elementary School, Carroll Middle School and Carroll High School all have lock and video systems installed. They were installed this year. Authorized personnel, such as staff members, have cards for keyless entry.
One of the video systems at Adams is broken, so the only way to enter the building is by the door near the flagpole, on the west side.
The outside doors of Kuemper are not locked, however, the classroom doors lock.
Kuemper President Vern Henkenius said the school recently reviewed its safety procedures and the school is now encouraging teachers to keep their doors locked.
He said if doors are open, teachers are supposed to keep their door in a locked position so they can pull the door closed quickly.
Henkenius said the school last performed a lock-down drill on Oct. 1.
For now, Fairview principal Ruch said, the best way to make sure nothing happens is to keep teachers vigilant.
“The teacher makes all the difference in the world,” Ruch said. “You have to trust the teacher to take care of them. The procedures won’t work without caring adults.”
Candice Ostrich, a kindergarten teacher at Fairview, said she believes a solid routine with her students helps her recognize anything suspicious.
“If we have unfamiliar people around, we do a lot of questioning to understand their purpose for being in the building,” Ostrich said.
Her students have so far complied with school-safety procedures, and she credits that to good communication with parents.
“I feel that we have an idea in kindergarten what we will do in an emergency situation, protecting the students will always be a priority,” Ostrich said. “As far as the students being ready, they will do what we have asked, they have the utmost trust in their teachers, and if we teach them to follow our lead they will be ready.”
Ruch said she wants to be proactive about the situation. She said she doesn’t want something to happen and then think they could have done something else.
Superintendent Rob Cordes sent out a message after the Connecticut shootings to parents of students in the Carroll Community School District.
“Unfortunately, neither I, nor anyone else can promise or guarantee that something bad will never happen in our schools. However, I can assure you that while your children are at school, I will do everything humanly possible to keep them safe, just as if they were my own child,” Cordes wrote.
“In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, the best advice I can give you is hug your child a little tighter, hold them a little longer, and tell them you love them every time they or you leave the house.”