South Florida parents and educators reeled at news of the massacre Friday at an elementary school in Connecticut.
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said schools in the nation’s fourth largest district practice regular evacuation and lock-down drills to prepare for any emergency. The district also has tight response plans, in which its own police department partners with municipal police departments. Carvalho noted that recently when police chased a U-Haul truck that was approaching Miami Senior High in Little Havana, the school went on lock-down before the truck arrived in the neighborhood.
“Unfortunately, a random act of violence is extremely difficult to prevent if it’s conducted by a determined and unfortunately less than sane individual,” Carvalho said. “We need to rely more on mental detection rather than metal detection. Our hearts are breaking at this very moment.”
Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said in a statement that the district’s “thoughts, prayers and condolences are with the families of the Newtown, Connecticut community.”
“The safety of our students is our highest priority. The district has safety measures in place to facilitate a safe teaching and learning environment. We continuously review our security protocols for our school campuses,” Runcie said.
The district spokeswoman, Nadine Drew, declined to give any specifics on what safety measures were in place.
The president of Broward Teachers Union, Sharon Glickman also issued a statement expressing thoughts and prayers for the victims and the school community of Sandy Hook Elementary, the site of the tragedy.
“Today’s incident reminds us of how important our public schools are and how precious our fellow colleagues and students are to us no matter where they teach and learn. As school and community members, we must all work together to remain vigilant in making sure our schools remain safe havens against senseless violence so student achievement can continue unimpeded,” Glickman said in a statement.
Experts urged parents to be honest about what happened, but make the conversation age-appropriate.
“As much as we’d like to protect our children from hearing about these things, they will hear about them. It’s always better to speak with our children,” said Maggie Macaulay, president and parenting coach at Whole Hearted Parenting.
She suggested finding quiet time, perhaps after children come home from school and not talking about the serious subject in the car, so that it can be face to face. Macaulay said while parents should not be hysterical or overly dramatic, they shouldn’t hide their emotions and should speak with a calm demeanor.
“What underlines everything is ‘Could this happen to me?’ and that’s what parents think too, ‘Could this happen to my child?’” Macaulay said, adding, “especially if you have kids in same age group and feel the scariness around that. It feels out of control and it is.”
Other advice for talking to children about the tragedy:
* Parents should process and be aware of their own emotions
*While speaking with children, point out all of the people who came to help and how people help one another in situations like this
*Allow a space for children to fully express their feelings, including anger and fear
*Find a call to action and ask your children how they would like to help, like showing a friend how much he or she is appreciated, writing a thank-you letter to first-responders or wishing well children at the school with a note, silent meditation or prayer.