Catholic schools, SD2 to have counselors ready to talk about school shootings

2012-12-16T20:30:00Z 2013-02-15T20:11:02Z Catholic schools, SD2 to have counselors ready to talk about school shootingsBy ZACH BENOIT The Billings Gazette

Billings Catholic Schools officials sent a letter to parents and staff in the system assuring that school safety and student well-being remain top priorities in light of a mass school shooting in Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults, as well as the gunman, dead.

"I assure you that the safety of our children, staff and schools is always our number one concern," wrote Harold Olson, BCS president. "All of our schools have crisis emergency procedure manuals designed to address a variety of emergency situations."

Olson went on to say that he will ask school administrators to review emergency plans and make an annual schedule to keep staff and students up-to-date on those procedures during the school year.

The letter also expressed "condolences, sympathy and prayers" for everyone involved in the "horrible tragedy."

Also on Sunday, Central High Principal Shel Hanser sent an email to staff, parents and students discussing updated safety measures at the school, set to begin on Monday.

"The primary adjustment that will take place is that all doors will be locked after the tardy bell," he wrote. "The only door that students, parents, delivery people or guests will be allowed to enter during the day will be the courtyard door."

That includes locking the doors out to Wyoming Avenue and Division Street. Hanser said that funneling people coming in and out of the courtyard entrance allows the school to have monitored video surveillance of anyone entering the school at all times.

Other planned changes include planned weekly safety topic discussions during Monday morning classes, with a focus on issues relevant to the Central building.

"Tragic reminders like the events of this week force us to remember that we must be diligent every second of every day to ensure a safe and healthy environment," Hanser wrote.

Olson's letter said that the schools within the system will have counselors available to speak with students if necessary and encouraged the students to seek out a teacher or principal if they're having troubles or want to talk to somebody.

"Once again I want to assure you that our administrators and staff will make sure the safety of our students is given the utmost attention," Olson said.

Billings Public Schools Supt. Terry Bouck issued a similar letter over the weekend that went out to all parents and staff in School District 2. In the letter, he expressed condolences and described safety at Billings schools as "our paramount concern."

Bouck said that schools will review safety procedures and work with the community to educate them on those plans.

Reached by telephone on Sunday, Bouck also said counselors and other staff will be available to students, and staff, should they need or want to speak with somebody.

"They will be handling it case-by-case in their buildings," he said. "There will certainly be access to counseling. We have skilled administrators there too that are good at talking to students. This is a terrible thing that happened and we need to do everything we can to make sure that our students feel safe and are able to ask questions."

Bouck said he's received numerous responses to his letter from parents and people in the community, both thanking the district and offering suggestions on safety procedure.

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