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Donovan tries to allay fears, concerns after Florida attack

Cites preventive measures in place; asks everyone to stay vigilant

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The campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a former student opened fire, killing 17.

Meghan Edwards, Danbury High School

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Principal Dan Donovan wants to assure the student body following the latest deadly school shooting — this time in a Florida high school — this week that students here are safe and the school will continue to strengthen preventive measures.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, when gunman Nikolas Cruz went into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and fatally shot 17 students and teachers, a shock reverberated throughout the nation. It was one of the worst mass shootings in a primary or secondary school since Sandy Hook in 2012, when 26 students and educators were killed.

With DHS being roughly the same size (3,000 students) and same type of large campus as Stoneman Douglas, many here took this latest school shooting to heart and fear the same thing happening here.

“You can never guarantee anyone’s total safety anywhere,” Donovan said two days after the latest massacre. “But I can say that we take a lot of precautions and preventive measures. We have our security protocols and we practice our lockdowns and other emergency drills on a regular basis.”

Donovan said although he understands that students, staff, and faculty have concerns about how safe DHS really is, he truly believes that the school and the people in it do their best in protecting the students.

“If a student asked me if they’re safe, I would say yes because DHS is a safe place for students to come on a daily basis, as I imagine that school was,” he said. “It’s a scary thing for staff, students, and parents that the possibility exists that this can happen at any school, any time.

“We can just ask that our students, staff, and parents say something when something doesn’t feel right and we go from there.”

Donovan said throughout the school there are teachers patrolling during their “duty period” in which they walk and “sweep” the school alongside the safety advocates. There are also numerous security cameras across campus that are monitored throughout the day, and there are two resource officers — the armed police officers that are trained to go into the building during dangerous situations.

Level 3 assistant principal Domitila Pereira said, “We have staff that has been trained, we have safety advocates, police officers that are concerned, that are aware. We are very vigilant. We work well with our kids, we know our kids, so the minute we see something’s off, we try to have a conversation with the kids right away.

Many students say that this extra safety staffing has eased their minds about the security of the school. On Thursday, the school, flying its flag at half-staff, had an increased presence of Danbury police officers. Pupil personnel staff had also been put on alert to help students and staff troubled by the shooting.

“I do feel safe with the safety advocates; if something comes up, they’ll do their job efficiently,” said senior Laiba Qureshi.

There is uncertainty around this, though. “For the most part I do [feel safe],” said junior Mimi Trinh, “but you just never know what can happen.”

Some students and teachers argued for it to be mandated for students to wear their school ID at all times to ensure that no one is in the building that is not supposed to be. The school immediately after the Sandy Hook massacre — and a year or two after — tried incentives and discipline to get students to wear their IDs, but the habit never took.

At this point, “I don’t think you could feel safe in any school,” said sophomore Isaiah Sawyer.

The worst part of tragedies like this is the frequency. “At first you feel bad, but then you get used it since it happens so often,” Sawyer said.

Donovan said that the best way to prevent these situations from occuring starts with the students.

“Our students are very observant and knowledgeable and aren’t afraid to come forward with information,” he said, “which they do.”

He tells students to report anything that doesn’t seem right. When it comes to postings on social media, he says screenshots are always helpful.

“Allow the adults to figure it out,” he says. “It’s very difficult to stop a lone wolf type person; but, when someone is reported about their potentially dangerous post we involve everyone and anyone we need to — psychologists, social workers, police, parents — and if we feel the student needs a psychiatric evaluation we will send them and not allow them back into school until it’s done.”

Donovan assures everyone that if the school feels a student is a serious threat to student safety, officials will not hesitate to follow up and expel them.

Students agreed with Donovan, saying the student body has the integrity to report anything unusual.

Senior Elijah Riley said that at DHS, there are “solid students” that either wouldn’t commit such a heinous crime or would report it if they were unnerved about a fellow student.

“Theoretically speaking, we have to catch the shooter before he commits the crime. Once the person enters the building [with a firearm], it’s too late,” he says.

The teachers are also working to remain vigilant. “As educators, we’re all in this situation together,” says social studies teacher Thomas Altieri. “We all try to do our best in whatever way we can to minimize disasters and tragedies like this. I don’t have all the answers but definitely working together is going to be the best way to handle it.”

Donovan said the key to thwarting an attack is a school’s consistency in following rules and procedures, and everyone is responsible.

“It seems like everyone goes into heightened alert the days following a tragedy like this, but return to normal practices a month later,” he said. “If you asked any student right now if you should let someone in the building through a side door they would say no; but, we see it happening all the time.”

Another possible solution that students, staff and faculty want to enforce is mental health care.

Social studies teacher Emily Pardalis said, “Something is happening in society that is creating students that are more anxious, more stressed out, and they don’t know how to deal with that stress and anxiety the correct way.”

Often, there is a stigma around receiving psychiatric help and many here said this needs to end.

“People aren’t open to the psychiatric help that they need,” Pereira said. “Every time [budgetary] cuts need to be made, mental health gets cut. I think kids need help. I think people need help.”

However, many of these kids that are struggling aren’t getting this help.

Sawyer calls for people to don’t “just look at the person’s outside, but also look at them from a mental perspective” all the time.

The only thing people seem to be sure about is that change has to be done. Math teacher Pamela Aikman said, “Sending condolences and ‘sorrys’ isn’t going to change what happened, and it isn’t going to make people feel better.” She said the country needs to help students who demonstrate behavioral issues to make sure tragedies like the shooting in Florida are not repeated.

Pardalis says that the problem is no matter how loud people are screaming for change, no one seems to be listening.

“We need to support the people who are trying to enact the change,” Pardalis said. They’ve been speaking for years and not being heard.”

But junior Elizabeth McBrien said that events such as this should serve as a learning experience.

“No one deserves to go through this,” she said. “This experience is one that should motivate us all  to do better, and fix the underlying issues.”

Qureshi says that we as a collective group have to do something because these mass shootings, particularly in school, are becoming much too common.

“I feel terrible saying this; but, school shootings have been normalized,” said freshman Lucy Chen. “There’s already been a lot of them and it’s not even the end of February.”

News outlets report there have been eight school shootings that have resulted in deaths throughout 45 days of school in 2018. That’s almost one per week.

Senior Thais Escamilla said, “America is not No. 1 in education, or healthcare; but, we are No. 1 for mass shootings and this is a major problem.”

Donovan said that this isn’t fair to anyone, especially kids.

“Students nowadays have to deal with the fear of this happening, it’s not fair to them and something has to be done about it; whether it’s better mental health care or banning assault rifles; either way kids shouldn’t have to feel this way.”

Several reporters contributed to this report, including: Naomi Thomas, Hisham Rushaidat, Ava Oliveira, Sabine Dempster, Gillian Brown, Camiele DeBonis, Jerick Gonzalez, Elizabeth Hadden, Mikayla Hill, Leslie Mendez and Shannon Ahearn. Read the original story here


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