A Reflection and Resources for Keeping Our Students Safe

Dear Parents, Guardians and Santa Cruz County School Community Members,

By now you are aware of the tragic school shooting that occurred Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Our hearts go out to all of the families and community of Newtown as they deal with this unspeakable event. There are simply no words to describe the emotions many of us are feeling right now and no explanation for how something like this could happen. There has been and will continue to be extensive media coverage of this horrific tragedy on the news, in social media groups, and within our local community of school and safety professionals.

We have provided extensive support to our local schools in the areas of school safety, violence prevention and responding to any level of emergency. We want to assure you that the safety of students is our main concern and that schools have a crisis plan in place to prevent such tragedies. A copy of these protocols can be found on our website. Each school regularly practices a variety of emergency response drills including lockdown/intruder on campus drills. In fact, On November 30, 2012, all school district and law enforcement agencies came together to review our school emergency response practices with a focus on school lockdown/intruder on campus procedures. Website link is below:
Emergency Response Management

As the County Superintendent I have taken the lead in promoting interagency cooperation between schools, community agencies and law enforcement to ensure the safety of our children. Three interagency councils that focus on school safety meet on a regular basis to address school violence, student safety and trauma/mental health issues. These include the: Broad-based Apprehension, Suppression, Treatment and Alternatives Council (BASTA); County Safe School Consortia; and the School Mental Health Emergency Response Partners (SERP). Each reviews and updates their respective protocols and strategies aligned with the latest researched best practices to ensure a safe and supportive school environment. In addition, the SCCOE is the lead in a regional effort to integrate mental health services into schools at the earliest level possible to address emotional wellness of children, target families in need of prevention services and facilitate the widest array of mental health services to students, staff and families.

These combined efforts of universal wellness, prevention/intervention strategies, crisis response/safety procedures and law enforcement support ensure that all Santa Cruz County schools are provided with the broadest array of services to ensure student safety.

As we learn more details about this tragic incident in the days and weeks ahead, it will be important for you to spend time talking with your children and helping them cope with this news. We know that children may raise questions and concerns about this tragedy. Listed below are several tips from the American Psychological Association (APA) for parents to consider:

Talk with your child. If children ask questions, talking to them about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them. What you talk about and how you say it does depend on their age, but all children need to be able to know that you are there and listening to them.

Keep home a safe place. Children, regardless of age, often find home to be a safe haven when the world around them becomes overwhelming. During times of crisis, it is important to remember that your children may come home seeking the safe feeling they have being there.

Watch for signs of stress, fear, or anxiety. After a traumatic event, it is typical for children (and adults) to experience a wide range of emotions including fearfulness, shock, anger, grief, and anxiety. Your children’s behaviors may change because of their response to the event. They may experience trouble sleeping, difficulty with concentrating on schoolwork, or changes in appetite. This is normal for everyone and should begin to disappear in a few months.

Take “news breaks.” Your children may want to keep informed by gathering information about the event from the internet, television, or newspapers. It is important to limit the amount of time spent watching the news because constant exposure may actually heighten their anxiety and fears. For more information, visit the APA Help Center.

You may also find the following resources helpful:

Resources for Coping with Tragedy

Caring for Kids After Trauma, Disaster and Death: A Guide for Parents and Professionals

Psychological First Aid (PFA) for Students and Teachers: Listen, Protect, Connect – Model & Teach

Tips for Teachers and Parents Following School and Community Violence

Disaster Distress Helpline

Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting

Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting

PTA: Talking about School Violence

U.S. Department of Education:

Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center

If you have any further questions or concerns about school safety or your child’s reaction to this tragic event, please know you are always welcome to contact your child’s school principal, counselor or office administration. We also have access to school psychologists and social workers who can assist parents in talking with their children or answering questions.

In closing, we ask that you please keep the families of those involved in this terrible tragedy in your thoughts and prayers. We will learn more details in the days and weeks ahead and we will discuss and debrief with administrators and staff accordingly.


Michael C. Watkins
County Superintendent of Schools
Santa Cruz County Office of Education