Burlington Superintendent of Schools Eric Conti has penned a letter to parents, guardians and the Burlington community in the wake of the tragic shooting in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday that killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers. In it he offers condolences, makes assurances that the Burlington School District does all it can to ensure the safety of all students, faculty and school employees and offers advice on how to talk to children about such horrific news.
Here is the letter:
By now you may have heard about the tragic school shooting that occurred yesterday, Tuesday May 24th, in Uvalde, Texas. We are deeply saddened by this news and our thoughts are with the Uvalde community. There is no doubt that there will be extensive news coverage regarding this incident in the coming days and ongoing discussions within communities across the nation.
We would like to take this opportunity to remind all of our families that we have a plan in place at each of our schools to handle emergency situations. We work with the Burlington Police and Fire Departments to prepare for these types of emergencies and regularly practice our safety procedures with students and staff through discussions and emergency exercises. While no amount of planning can guarantee that a tragedy such as this will not occur, we are doing everything we know to keep students and staff safe while at school.
As we learn more details regarding this tragedy, we want to ensure that we provide support to parents/caregivers for processing such events with their children. Below is a list of suggestions from the National Association of School Psychologist about what parents/caregivers can do at times like this:
1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient. Children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily.
3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
- Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them.
- Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.
- Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines, communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.
5. Observe children’s emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental health concerns, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek the help of a mental health professional if you are at all concerned or contact the school to ensure a school counselor touches base with your child.
6. Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.
7. Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but do not push them if they seem overwhelmed.
In closing, we pledge to make safety a top priority and to take any threat seriously. If you have concerns about your child’s reaction to this news, please contact your child’s school counselor or the Central Office.
Eric M. Conti, Ph.D