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Monday a normal, if somber, day in area schools

Updated: January 19, 2013 6:12AM

It’s important to talk factually to children, to verify and to correct rumors.

It’s important to answer the questions they have asked, with answers that are known, especially when so many details have changed since the news first started coming back Friday from Newtown, Conn.

It’s important because, when that’s done in a “calm and authoritative manner,” it can reduce children’s anxiety, according to School District U46 Safety Coordinator John Heiderscheidt.

Those were some of the talking points Heiderscheidt had finalized and sent to U46 administrators over the weekend before school doors opened again Monday morning in the Elgin district after a somber weekend, as details emerged about what happened last week inside Sandy Hook Elementary School, half a country away.

Next-door neighbor Community Unit School District 300 also had sent a newsletter to its staff, “refocusing and recommitting to basic safety efforts we do here every day,” according to District 300 Safety Officer Gary Chester.

And that communication with district staff is important, Heiderscheidt said, because teachers “are leaders, and kids will be looking to them for their reactions and asking their own on that.”

Both districts reported a normal, even quiet, school day as it wound down Monday in their buildings.

That comes after a 20-year-old man shot and killed his mother Friday morning, then opened fire inside Sandy Hook, killing 20 children and six adults.

Locally, Chester said, “Parents are obviously concerned.”

Attendance was down Monday in some schools in the Carpentersville-based school district, according to its safety officer. Some schools reported more parents dropping off and picking up children who normally take district transportation, he said. Still others reported no noticeable change in attendance, he said.

Attendance numbers were not immediately available from U46 Monday.

Several police departments also added extra patrols around schools in both districts to “provide a sense of security,” according to a message sent to parents and staff by U46 Superintendent Jose Torres.

In District 300, Chester said, “We’ve not started anything extremely different than what we have in the past. Were just refocusing on what we should be doing to keep our students and staff safe.”

That includes making sure all outside doors are locked at all times at schools in both districts, and making eye contact and determining the purpose of a visit by any person.

That also includes evaluating and reevaluating district security practices, something Heiderscheidt said U46 “always” is doing.

“We are hearing from folks who are expressing concerns. We are evaluating what needs to be done in light of all this,” he said.

Heiderscheidt, Torres and administrators and union leaders in the Elgin district met Monday to discuss their security plans for the week. In his message Monday evening, the superintendent said he will debrief daily with each building administrator, whom he has encouraged to contact him if they have any concerns or needs for more assistance.

He also said he would issue updates to parents and staff Wednesday and Friday.

Superintendents in both school districts first had reached out to their communities last Friday.

District 300 Superintendent Michael Bregy had assured parents of many of those security practices the district has urged its staff to recommit to. And, Bregy said, the district would make psychologists and social workers available for any students who need help processing what happened.

Torres also encouraged community members to access counseling as needed from the U46’s Employee Assistance Program, community social service organizations and faith communities.

“My prayers are with the victims and their families, who will not have a normal holiday season this year,” he said.

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