Western New York school districts plan for what was once the unthinkable - The Buffalo News

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Western New York school districts plan for what was once the unthinkable

A reminder the other day of the tragedy – and increased frequency – of school shootings hit hard as the anniversary of another unthinkable shooting approached. These awful occurrences serve only to support decisions by school districts to beef up security.

Two people were reported injured Friday afternoon during a shooting at a suburban Denver high school. The suspect, a fellow classmate, took his own life.

Arapahoe High School in Centennial now joins a growing list of schools around the nation that have been scenes of terror. The latest shooting occurred the day before the anniversary of another tragedy, at a Newtown, Conn., school.

About a year ago, the unthinkable occurred when a shooter stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School and took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults. These were babies. The adults who tried to protect them lost their lives.

No one could have imagined. Not even after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in which 13 people were killed by two teenage gunmen. It is because of such tragedies that school districts have begun training faculty and staff in ways to protect the children and themselves.

As News staff reporter Denise Jewell Gee recently wrote, a change in mind-set has emerged about safety: Orchard Park, Clarence and others have run “active shooter” scenarios to test their responses. Others, including East Aurora and Sweet Home, have gone to the voters for more money to rebuild school entrances and add new security equipment.

Some schools in Cheektowaga are teaching staff members that they may have to fight back. Throw a stapler or fling a chair. Try to survive.

Each mass shooting brings new lessons that no one wants to think about. Buildings are undergoing physical changes since the Sandy Hook tragedy. In Depew, that involves reconfiguring its parent drop-off loop at the elementary school. A Maryvale elementary school is testing hardware that swipes the licenses of visitors to identify potential problems. And Williamsville is installing 185 cameras in school buildings and has added an identification card entry system for employees.

Amanda Nickerson, an expert on school crisis prevention and intervention and the director of the University at Buffalo Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention, has it right when she talks about establishing and ensuring the human connections among students and teachers.

Reaching out a hand to all students is always the best place to start. Sadly, the world in which we now live also requires things like “active shooter” drills.

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