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Shooting: O.C. educators, parents shocked by killings
By FERMIN LEAL



Orange County educators, administrators and parents reacted on Friday with shock and disbelief that an elementary school could be the scene of one of the nation's biggest massacres.

The suburban Connecticut shooting that left 27 dead, including 20 children, has also raised questions as to what schools could have done, if anything, to prevent the violent act.

"This is such a horrific attack on innocent children. I can not reconcile in my mind how one human could exercise such harm against others," said Orange County Superintendent Al Mijares.

"This is also difficult for all educators to comprehend because parents entrust their children to our schools. We expect them to be safe. Then something like this happens."

Parent angst

Many parents across Orange County said that even though the incident took place more than 3,000 miles away, its impacts are reverberating across local schools and communities.

Shirley Cortez, a parent of a second-grader at Lampson Elementary in Garden Grove, said she wanted to pick up her son from school when she first heard about the shooting, but not because she worried about his safety.

"I just wanted to hold him and tell him I loved him," said Cortez, who eventually decided to leave her son at school for the remainder of the school day. "As a mother, I can imagine the heartbreak parents in Connecticut must be going through right now. I just felt I wanted my child with me."

"This is every parent's worst fear," said Marianna Posadas, a parent at Edison Elementary in Santa Ana. "It makes you appreciate what you have. I know every parent I've talked to wishes they could pass along their condolences to all the families affected."

Melissa Santos, a parent at San Juan Elementary in San Juan Capistrano, said she broke into tears when she saw images of devastated parents on television.

"This is the most I've been overwhelmed over a national tragedy since 9/11," she said. "It deeply affects every person with a child. It's going to take a while for everyone to get over this."

Safety at O.C. schools

Orange County public schools have safety procedures in place aimed at protecting students and staff. But it's unlikely any of the current measures could have prevented an assault from a deranged gunman, officials said.

"If you have someone hell-bent on committing an action like this, you're not going to stop them," said Fullerton police Sgt. Jeff Stuart, who previously served as a school resource officer and helped craft emergency response protocols for campuses in Fullerton.

"Short of having a vaulted door at the entrance of every school where visitors are buzzed in, there is no real way to prevent something like this," he said.

But schools can still work to train staff to remain vigilant, by ensuring they track all visitors on the campus, and report all suspicious activity to law enforcement, he said.

Local schools typically have a fenced perimeter, with the school office serving as the only entry point serving school hours. Visitors are generally required to sign in and provide identification at the office before they can enter a campus.

No local campus has metal detectors. Most middle schools and high school have security guards and a few high schools have police officers assigned to them.

During emergencies, districts also generally implement lock-down procedures, and automated voice or messaging systems inform parents and provide them details.

At Santa Ana Unified, the county's largest district with 57,300 students, a 24-officer, armed police department patrols about 60 schools. Another 30 to 50 safety officers assist with security.

"We can lessen the opportunity of something like this happening here," Santa Ana Unified Police Lt. Mark Van Holt said. "But can we have a wholesale way to stop a lunatic? Tragically, the answer is no."

There have been relatively few incidents of shootings at Orange County schools. Most have involved gang-related shootings near campuses.

The county's worst school shooting occurred in 1976 at Cal State Fullerton, when janitor Edward Charles Allaway stormed the campus with a semi-automatic and shot nine, killing seven.

In July, authorities charged UC Irvine associate professor Rainer Klaus Reinscheid with several counts of arson at University High, a school his son attended before committing suicide.

Prosecutors later released emails from Reinscheid that allegedly detailed a plan to obtain machine guns and shoot at least 200 University High before killing himself. Reinscheid pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Irvine Unified spokesman Ian Hanigan said district administrators will meet in coming weeks to discuss the Connecticut shooting to see if the district needs to change any of the district security protocols.

"Right now, it's too early to speculate because we don't have all the details of what exactly happened," he said.

Officials from other districts also said they will also review their emergency systems in the wake of the tragedy. But they emphasize that the shooting remains a very isolated incident.

"I still believe parents don't have anything to worry when they send their children to our local schools," said Mijares, the county superintendent. "Our school staff is very proactive in ensuring safety is the top priority. I honestly believe our schools are extremely safe."

Several school districts across Orange County will provide crisis teams and other support for schools next week to help children understand and deal with the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

In Santa Ana, school psychologists and counselors at every campus will be available to meet with both students and their parents Monday. Superintendent Thelma Meléndez de Santa Ana will send an automated phone call to district parents, informing them that schools will offer the services.

Officials from other districts said they plan to post resources and guides on their websites to help parents talk to their children.

Anaheim City Superintendent Christopher King said in a letter to parents that staff at district schools will reassure children that these types of tragedies are extremely rare.

"There are approximately 100,000 schools in America and everyone was safe today at all schools but one," he said.

Here are some examples provided by educators of how teachers, counselors and school psychologists might approach the tragedy with children:

•For very elementary age children, educators will provide clear, concrete explanations of what happened. They will share with them all the steps local schools take to keep them safe.

•For middle school and high school students, teachers may encourage and monitor open discussions and debates in classrooms about issues related to the incident, including gun control and domestic violence. The discussions often help older students overcome and deal with the anxiety and stress that can follow a tragedy.

• Teachers, principals and counselors will encourage all students to ask questions and share their thoughts. This will allow educators to clear misconceptions, and more importantly, help identify students who may be overwhelmed by the tragedy.

Contact the writer: 714-796-2258 or fleal@ocregister.com






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