By Julie Vaughan
“It’s a tough day,” Canton Elementary School Counselor Kathy Day said Monday morning, in light of the shootings last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman entered an elementary school killing 26 people, 20 of them children, and himself.
“The main thing we want people to know is that the kids are safe here,” Day said. “We are looking into our safety and emergency plans.”
“This is so difficult because we always felt safe at school,” Day continued.
Canton ISD waisted no time in reacting to the shooting and immediately began looking at their own safety plans already in place.
“We started getting reports of the shootings on Friday and then on Saturday I met with each campus principal and assistant principal,” Canton ISD Superintendent Jay Tullos said. “We went over the plans with each individual campus principal. We don’t want to cause panic, but we also don’t want to go with a wait and see.”
“What happened this week is unimaginable and nobody is immune to this,” Tullos said.
In a letter sent out to Canton ISD staff Sunday, superintendent Jay Tullos said, “We must keep these children, their families, staff, and entire community in our thoughts and prayers. The question of ‘why’ continually comes to mind. There is no answer for this act. This happening at an elementary campus truly shows that evil has no boundaries.”
The letter concluded in part by saying, “…We must all remember that the number one priority is the safety of our students. As a parent, I expect my children to be safe while at school. I know that each of you feel the same way, as does every parent in our community.”
Although the elementary campus did not have an influx of parents coming to pull their children out of school following the shooting, Day said there were a couple of parents who came to the office upset.
There were however, “a few more than normal” students taken out at the intermediate school, and Tullos said he requested the students not be counted absent in class because of the concerns parents had last Friday.
He noted there have been a couple of calls made to his office from parents who were double checking to make sure there were security plans in place.
Campus and district-wide, lockdown drills have always been in place, and they have been practiced on an even more regular basis since a shooting that occurred in Canton seven years ago.
In April 2005, angry parent Jeffrey Doyle Robertson came on campus and went into the Canton High School field house, shooting and critically wounding then head football coach Gary Joe Kinne with an automatic handgun.
In the days and months that followed, school security became tighter in Canton, and across the county.
Today, visitors to every campus at Canton ISD are required to show a driver’s license which is ran through the Raptor system, a security program that checks criminal history.
All visitors are only allowed on campus through the office and all other doors on campus are locked. Also, visitors are issued a visitors pass and must sign in and out at the office giving their reason for the visit.
Tullos assured there is training in the summer with teachers, and throughout the year there is security training on each campus with teachers and students.
Security plans are not only in place on each campus, but also in the classrooms which includes keeping doors locked during the day in each class, Tullos explained.
“We want to make sure we know what to do,” Tullos said, adding that although minor adjustments were needed and made to security plans on Saturday, he wanted to make sure the district was “on the same page.”
Tullos said administrators were scheduled to meet with teachers on Monday to answer questions and ensure that all have a good understanding of the campus plan.
With 20 years in education and seven years as a superintendent Tullos said security in the classroom is not something an educator would think they needed to worry about.
“It has changed our jobs…everything truly has changed,” Tullos added.
Day, who has been a counselor at Canton Elementary School for 10 years, has dealt with tragedy as a teacher in her tenure at Canton and other districts, but said last Friday’s events changes your outlook.
“This is really one of those hard times,” Day said.
“It is unbelievable. I think it has touched everybody,” Tullos said. “…It has changed our society.”