West Hartford Superintendent Sends Letter to Families Following Florida School Shooting

West Hartford Public Schools Superintendent's Office. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Superintendent Tom Moore felt it was important to reach out to West Hartford Public School families following Wednesday’s school shooting in Parkland, FL.

By Ronni Newton

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore sent a lengthy letter to families Thursday afternoon, assuring them that everything possible is in place to keep children as safe as possible, and sharing details about the protocols that the district has put into place, including training personnel to respond to a worst-case scenario.

“After nights like last night, on days like today, parents worry about their kids being in a place – a place where they shouldn’t have to worry about them,” Moore said Thursday afternoon.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 14, Nikolas Cruz, 19, opened fire with an AR-15 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, killing at least 17 people and injuring many more. He was a former student at the high school.

“I felt something needed to be sent out to the community today,” Moore said. The text of Moore’s letter has been reproduced below, with his permission.

Moore said that counselors, social workers, and psychologists are available at each of the schools if anyone feels they need to speak with someone.

February 15, 2018

Dear Parents, Students and Staff,

My heart breaks to be writing this letter to you after yet another tragic shooting of American children and school staff. There are no words to describe my shock, sorrow, and downright anger to be seeing students walking out of a building with their hands up past SWAT teams, in that all too familiar ritual that we first saw at Columbine, and again in Connecticut at Sandy Hook. I write this letter not to assure you that this could never happen here, as I think we have reached the point, with so many school shootings, that those are empty promises. I instead write as a superintendent and a father with two children in our schools, to give you my word that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that your and my children are safe, that they are emotionally and mentally cared for, and that we have protocols in place so that if this ever did happen here, we have drilled and prepared for the worst case scenario.

Let me start with actual protocols. Our Director of Security, Eric Dency, is an expert in the field of school security who has presented across the state, and nationally, on this topic. Under his leadership, and in partnership with the West Hartford Police Department, we have changed our drills, both fire and lockdown, to occur in more real life situations. We have them at all times of the day, with students at various locations, while Eric and police are there to evaluate our staff and student actions. In addition, we have prepared for the previously unimaginable by ordering trauma kits for our schools, with emergency medical supplies, including quick clotting agents first used by the military. I hate even typing the words, but I want you to know that we plan for the worst case scenarios. We have School Resource Officers (West Hartford Police Department) stationed at both of our high schools, and SRO’s attached to each of our other schools who act both as law enforcement and safety officials, but also as mentors and teachers to our children. Our West Hartford Police Department regularly performs active shooter drills, and has had this type of training in our schools during our vacation periods. They are great partners for us, and I appreciate all of their hard work and dedication. Over the past four years, we have spent more than a million dollars upgrading our physical security at schools in various ways. We will continue to seek out school safety grants, and it was just announced last week that we have received over $400,000 more from State of Connecticut grants that we wrote to help us to pay for some of these improvements. These efforts will continue.

We are working constantly to teach our staff during drills that there may not be just one right answer on what to do. Statistically, barricading in a classroom has proven to be effective when we look at instances of other shootings, but there are times when decisions must be made as to what is the best thing to do in that unique situation. Drills are very important, but no practice will ever exactly match conditions in an actual situation.

I am particularly proud of, and thankful for, our teachers and mental health professionals. The most important thing that we can do is to truly know our children, and to care for them when they need our help. Our counselors, social workers, and school psychologists work tirelessly to ensure that each child is safe, is being checked on, and is being heard. Their jobs, in today’s environment, are only becoming more and more difficult. Today, and in the future, they are available, and meeting with our students who might be struggling to come to terms with yesterday’s events. I cannot thank them enough for their efforts.

Finally, we rely on our children, and our parents, to keep us informed if they hear or see something concerning. Social media allows for many faceless comments, warnings and threats. It is more important than ever that we treat each other with kindness and decency, whether in person or online. When we see something that does not feel right, be it words or images, please let your teacher, principal, or the police know about it. We have to teach our kids that there is no such thing as snitching when it comes to keeping them safe.

I hope that I never have to write to you again about this topic, but I felt that it was important to reach out to you today so that you know that this is not just on my mind, but on the minds of all who work in and lead our schools. West Hartford Police is also increasing visits to our schools in light of this. I weep for our United States that this epidemic continues, and I hope that we find the resolve as a nation to do more to put an end to it. Myself, Dr. Morrow, our Assistant Superintendent for Administration who oversees our facilities, Dr. Nelson, our Director of Pupil Services who oversees our mental health care, and Mr. Dency, our Director of Security, are available to answer any questions that you might have, as well as your building principals. My thoughts are with you, our children, and those suffering in Florida.

Tom Moore
West Hartford Public Schools

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