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As students return, South Washington County Schools emphasize safety following Connecticut shooting

Local school principals and administrators attempted to comfort concerned District 833 parents and students as they returned to class Monday after last Friday's Connecticut mass school shooting.

In phone calls, conversations and emails, South Washington County Schools staff tried to reassure parents and schoolchildren that student safety is a priority, offered help to students struggling with news of the East Coast grade school shooting and suggested to parents ways to talk to children about the tragedy.

Administrators reiterated the district has security plans in place, but deferred to principals to decide how to address specific concerns from families and staff within their buildings.

Newport Elementary Principal Aaron Krueger told parents in a message over the weekend that staff would reassure students that the school is a safe and secure environment. Administrators also were prepared for students having difficulty with news of the shooting, which left 26 victims dead, including 20 children, and the shooter.

"We will have staff on hand to assist students as needed if concerns arise," Krueger wrote to parents.

Cottage Grove Elementary Principal Theresa Blume that students would have questions stemming from the shooting.

"Our staff is committed today and every day of making sure that the environment we create is safe and welcoming," Blume wrote. "As part of our building plan we practice both modified and full lockdown drills so that staff members know and understand their responsibility in making sure students are safe. We emphasize to the students that if there is ever an emergency that their eyes and ears should be focused on the adult in charge."

District 833 Communications Director Barb Brown said a number of local schools had heard from parents regarding the East Coast school shooting shortly after news of the rampage began spreading.

South Washington County Schools has existing school building and office security policies in place. In addition, there is controlled access to all buildings and a number of police officers assigned to schools in the district and are available to all buildings, according to administrators.

Brown said the district has been working on an update to its security policies for about six months, but did not plan any immediate changes in light of the school shooting. A consultant the district is using on its security policies worked on similar issues with the Minnesota Department of Education, Brown said.

It wasn't immediately clear how many parents had contacted local schools.

Superintendent Keith Jacobus offered condolences on Twitter: "Our hearts go out to the community of Newton [sic] CT. I want you to know the safety and security of our students is our top priority."

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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