Are Coastal Empire schools prepared for tragedy? - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Are area schools prepared for tragedy?

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It started with Columbine. When two students opened fire on their peers before killing themselves. It was then many area public school districts decided to change the way they handled violence and how visitors were allowed in the school.

Metal detectors went up in some schools. Visitors were automatically taken to the front office to be identified. According to Chief Ulysses Bryant, Savannah Chatham County Public School Campus Police, plans were changed on how they would handle an incident like Columbine or Sandy Hook Elementary School. Law enforcement officers, first responders, and educators immediately take charge of the scene.

"If you've got a report of an intruder or an active shooter, automatically, the school goes in to a lock down mode," explained Chief Bryant. "Any kids in the hallways or playgrounds are pulled into a classroom and made safe. They're instructed to stay away from windows and the doors are secured."

Just recently, the Liberty County Public School System changed their policies. The new rules upset many parents, but school superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said the changes were made on the advice of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Experts said access for strangers to get inside the Liberty County school buildings was too easy.

Dr. Scherer says now all the doors inside the schools are locked from the outside, except the main entrance. All visitors must sign in at the front office and wear a name tag. Plus, the school system beefed up it's safety plan.

"It's something we write out and plan for long before anything happens," Dr.Scherer explained. "It not only includes an incident like the Connecticut tragedy, where we have a shooter, but we also prepare for tornadoes, fires, hurricanes, toxic spills, all sorts of disasters that could happen."

Dr. Scherer said they practice safety scenarios with students and staff on a regular basis.

Both school systems say having Guidance Counselors on hand make a difference too,

WTOC spoke with Benedictine Military Academy guidance counselor Stewart Pinkerton about the Connecticut shootings. He said keeping the lines of communication open and giving students a shoulder to lean on is crucial.

Benedictine actually put that plan into action just last year, after one of their teachers, Dr. Joseph Bator, died of a heart attack at the school.

"We worked with the students to make sure they got the attention and the care they needed," Pinkerton explained. "It was an opportunity to speak about how they were feeling and dealing with the death of a teacher they knew very well."

The school also let students express their emotions. The Cadets made a plaque and a marble bench in Dr. Bator's memory.

Pinkerton said after going through a tragedy, students may also need regular counseling sessions either in school or from an outside source.

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