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Schools, Parents Prepare to Talk About Newtown Shooting with Kids

What schools are doing—and how you can join the effort—to help children cope with a tragedy.

Orange County educators were directing parents and guardians to information on how to talk to their children about the mass killing Friday at a Connecticut elementary school, and some school officials were beefing up counseling to prepare students when they return to classes Monday.

Orange County Department of Education officials coached school officials to help parents find information on websites that will assist them when children inquire about the Connecticut rampage.

“Most districts are pushing folks to our websites,'' said Arthur Cummins, administrator of safe and healthy schools for the Orange County Department of Education.

The fast-moving nature of the violence in Connecticut did not give
educators time to put together handouts for parents, many school districts sent emails to parents.

“Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and probability that it will affect our school community,” Laguna Beach Unified Superintendent Sherine Smith said in a message to parents. 

“Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine and being with friends and family help make children feel better and keep them from worrying about the event,” she advised.

Capistrano Unified School District Superintendent Joseph Farley said the district is sending emails to parents that direct them to online information.

“First and foremost, it expresses our sympathy to those who have been impacted by the events in Connecticut, but it also gives parents a website where they can find information and coaching on what to talk to their kids about and some things they can think about in terms of kids safety," Farley said.

That conversation is critical, Cummins said.

“The message to parents, and this comes from research, is to really limit the viewing of television about this, especially for younger children," Cummins said. “This is what we learned from Columbine and 9/11.”

Parents should also reassure their children that "they're in a safe place'' and then ask "probing questions" about they feel, Cummins said.

“From there, let the children know those are normal reactions to these kinds of abnormal events and they can expect to get better over time,'' Cummins said.

At Los Alamitos Unified, which serves Los Al and Seal Beach students, counselors are standing by to help parents with the conversation, reported Superintendent Sherri Kroop.

School administrators, staff and teachers are sharing in the students’ pain, being "deeply saddened" by the events, Kroop said. 

Laguna Beach’s Smith had these words for parents:

"Sometimes people do horrible things and hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. It is important to share with your children that parents, teachers, police officers, doctors and faith leaders work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others." 

Meanwhile, Orange County school officials were preparing for the days
ahead as more news about the shooting unfolds, Cummins said.

“Monday morning and through next week, schools will be meeting about
hosting conversations so children can continue to ventilate,'' Cummins said.

Throughout the last 10 years, school officials in Orange County have trained thousands of nurses, counselors and psychologists on how to handle these types of crises, Cummins said.

“There's a lot of expertise out there across Orange County,'' Cummins said.

At Capistrano Unified, school officials regularly go through simulation drills to prepare for a campus shooting, Farley said.

Those types of drills have become a priority in Orange County schools,
Cummins said.

“Those schools that have active, simulated-emergency drills, whether it's an earthquake or an active shooter, the adults become more proficient and,
from a psychological standpoint, they become responders instead of victims
because they've practiced,'' Cummins said.

For more tips on how to talk to children about the shooting, see this Patch story. venice.patch.com/articles/elementary-school-shooting

— City News Service contributed to this report.

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