A Saturday, Dec. 15, press release from Connecticut State Police said the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, used an assault weapon to shoot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School, because the doors were locked as part of the school’s security system.
Officers found him dead in the school from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, along with six dead teachers and 18 dead students. Two children died later at a hospital, and Lanza’s mother was also found fatally shot in her home.
When news of the shooting reached Tracy, messages to parents were posted on the websites of Tracy and Banta by school district administrators, while emails were sent to parents of children in the Lammersville and New Jerusalem school districts.
Officials at the Jefferson School District were unavailable for comment this week, because the district office is closed for winter break.
New Jerusalem began its winter break Thursday, Dec. 20, while the other four districts had the final classes Dec. 14.
The statement from Tracy Unified provided parents with a link to the district’s Safety is Our Top Priority website, which outlines the district’s approach to school safety and emergency response scenarios.
Jessica Cardoza, spokeswoman for the district, said Monday, Dec. 17, that the district has “very detailed safety plans in place at all of the schools.”
“They participate in drills for emergency situations, lockdowns and shelter-in-place, fires and earthquakes, and we’ll continue to do those,” she said.
Like most school districts, visitors to a TUSD school must check in to the administration office and obtain a visitor’s pass prior to going on campus.
Cardoza said this procedure is to ensure the safety of the students, staff and the visitor if there should be an incident on campus.
If someone comes on a TUSD campus with a gun, all schools are immediately locked down, and teachers are instructed to lock classroom doors, Cardoza said. The students are instructed to get under their desks and stay away from doors or windows.
No immediate changes to the TUSD security plan are expected, Cardoza said, and district administrators are following updates of the shooting as they are released.
David Thoming, superintendent of New Jerusalem School District, said Monday that his students observed a moment of silence for the victims.
Thoming said he planned to invite parents to the next district safety committee meeting, tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m. in the school gymnasium Jan. 8.
“We’re looking at our security,” he said. “We feel pretty good about the things we put into place over the years. Anytime when something like this happens, it pushes the (security) conversations to the forefront.”
With the construction of a new classroom and administration building, Thoming said the district hired a security guard last year. He said the guard acts as an “extra set of eyes.”
He said the guard will be retained as a campus security officer when construction is completed.
“There’s always someone outside in front greeting people,” Thoming said. “It puts people on notice we’re paying attention.”
Thoming said he plans to have the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office conduct a safety review for the rural school in the near future. The last review by the sheriff’s office was two years ago.
“If there is something good that can come out of something so horrific, it’s that everybody is talking about it,” Thoming said.
Superintendent Albert Garibaldi posted a message on the Banta Elementary School District website Friday.
“All of us who work with children take our responsibility to keep them safe very seriously — As this morning’s incident shows, sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, evil forces can break our unspoken agreement,” he wrote.
Garibaldi said during a phone interview Monday that his elementary school has a safety plan in place with lockdown procedures, but all that is going to be re-evaluated.
“It caused us to take a second look at all of our safety procedures,” he said. “I had a meeting with the preschool program, and I’m meeting with the staff, and additional procedures may be put into place to monitor and improve security.”
Since Banta Elementary School was built in the 1950s, its campus has an open design, which Garibaldi said is something officials will have to reconsider.
“We’re taking this opportunity to review everything,” he said. “Review what may be available to help keep kids safe.”
Dale Hansen, superintendent of Lammersville Unified School District, said during a telephone interview Monday that he sent an email to parents on Friday to advise them about how to talk to their children about the Sandy Hook incident.
During the district’s winter break, Hansen said his administrators will review their crisis response and preparedness plans, which were already under re-evaluation.
“We went thorough lockdown procedures and practices in the last few weeks,” Hansen said. “The sheriff’s, firefighters and the full crisis response committee will be presenting an updated plan to the board in January. We already planned (an update) before this (incident).”
Hansen called the shooting “gut-wrenching.”
“It’s our most vulnerable part of our society, and it’s just wrong,” he said. “We all feel that way. Immediately we think of the safety of our kids and staff.”
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.