CPS superintendent writes about FL school shooting in letter to parents
COLUMBIA - Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman sent a letter to parents on Thursday detailing his thoughts and reactions to the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Seventeen people died when Nikolas Cruz, 19, allegedly went into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday and opened fire. Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
In his letter to parents, Stiepleman talked about security at Columbia schools, training for staff in emergency situations, and resources available to students and parents who may need help after the events in Florida.
Read the full letter below:
"Dear Parent or Guardian,
"My first reaction yesterday when I heard the news about the horrible tragedy in Florida was sadness. I thought about my own children and the children and staff in our schools. It’s easy to fall into a feeling of despair, but I also thought about the importance of remaining vigilant and not becoming numb to such horrific and senseless acts. As parents and educators, we think about what we are doing every day to make sure our children are safe. Please be assured that safety is our top priority in Columbia Public Schools.
"While what children may know and understand about yesterday’s events may vary, we want you to know that counselors in our buildings are available to help students who may need assistance today. If your child would like to speak to someone at school about his or her feelings, concerns or fears, please let us know or encourage him or her to reach out to a trusted adult.
"I also want to take a moment to share with you some of the measures we take as a district to keep our schools safe.
"All staff members in our district, including teachers, administrators, and support staff, are trained in emergency response procedures. We have plans in place for each of our buildings to deal with emergency situations, including those similar to what occurred yesterday. We conduct regular drills, including active intruder drills, which help to keep the right procedures and precautions fresh in our minds. When a drill is conducted the entire school participates, including students, our safety and security officers and local law enforcement. During these drills, students and staff are taught how to barricade, evade and escape during an active situation.
"Our school district has a strong partnership with our local law enforcement agencies and emergency responders, and we work closely with them to ensure our schools are as safe as possible. We have four full-time school resource police officers in our secondary schools. We have eight active community outreach police officers in many of our elementary and middle schools on a daily basis. We have three retired Columbia police officers who serve as the school district’s full-time safety and security officers. They are well-trained and quick to respond. They were granted permission by the Board of Education several years ago to carry concealed weapons. Our schools are equipped with numerous security features, including buzz-in systems, security cameras, exterior lighting and mass communication systems.
"We have created many partnerships and support systems to address mental health needs for our students. Early identification and intervention is key so that we may meet the individual needs of students. Columbia Public Schools is also part of the Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition, which brings our local school districts together to implement prevention and intervention methods, reduce risk factors for children and coordinate services for at-risk students and families.
"Because we must remain vigilant, the school district is constantly evaluating its safety and security. Those plans include more lighting in parking lots, additional video intercom electronic door locks and security cameras, and installation of protective window film in all of our schools. We are exploring the installation of facial recognition software in order to better identify individuals who have been banned from school campuses. We are reviewing building entryway designs at several facilities to better improve safety and access in mind.
"All too often, as more information about these events unfolds, we learn that there were warning signs. We need your help too. It is critically important that our students continue to report anything suspicious or concerning they may see or hear so that we may intervene and investigate.
"Please be assured that Columbia Public Schools has the safety and best interests of your child in mind at all times. We will work together to make sure that our procedures for preventing and dealing with situations such as this are as strong as possible, and that our children are protected. We will continue to re-examine and review all of our procedures as we move forward.
"Thank you for your support and please keep the community of Parkland in your thoughts.