While national political leaders are ready to redefine gun control laws in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the head of Winlock’s schools said local officials are taking the opportunity to emphasize and redefine the way teachers and students train to stay safe during an attack.
Superintendent Shannon Criss said Winlock’s schools already practice lockdown and evacuation drills and administrators are now reevaluating how effective these drills have been and what threats should be incorporated into them.
"We need to ask questions and determine how to better equip our schools and community to handle an emergency event," said Criss, who has met with law enforcement officials to discuss how capable the district would be of responding to or preventing an attack. "Both the local Police Department and the Sheriff's Office have been great to work with as we revisit our plans."
Winlock Police Chief Terry Williams met with Criss Dec. 18 and, prior to the meeting, said one of his primary concerns regarding school safety is the ease of access to facilities, stating there are few barriers or checkpoints preventing potentially dangerous persons from entering and exiting unnoticed.
Criss said hiring a School Resource Officer, who would police students, staff and visitors, has become one of the goals for Winlock, but added the district would need to seek out
additional resources in order to create and fill the position.
Safety measures such as a closed campus for students are already part of policy, said Criss, and parents have also been encouraged to be vocal and open with children about their concerns and apprehensions after the Sandy Hook attack.
But some safety strategies are not being considered, said Criss, including the idea of arming teachers and staff, which she said would not be as effective as some gun supporters believe.
"I don't think firearms in the school is the solution," said Criss, restating Winlock’s focus will be on training to respond to threats and emergencies. "I do believe that we need to be proactive in practicing, practicing, practicing drills and to look at school safety in our own buildings."
While specific policy changes are uncertain for the district, as well as at the state and federal level, Criss said she hopes to see a greater emphasis on mental health evaluation in the midst of gun control debates.
"I am in hopes that there would be additional funding to assist our Social and Health Services agencies and to help with School Safety," said Criss.
For those with questions about Winlock’s safety protocols for schools or how members of the public can be involved in training and drills, contact the Winlock School District Office at (360) 785-3582.