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Local educators react to Conn. shooting, prepare for students' questions


Students in Sonoma County were already in class by the time news broke Friday about the horrific school tragedy in Connecticut, making them largely unaware of the events on the East Coast.

"Most probably haven't heard about it," Santa Rosa High School secretary Marlene Callen said Friday afternoon, adding she was unaware of any classroom discussions about the mass shooting.

"We tend not to broadcast those things," she said.

In Petaluma, McKinley Elementary School received several phone calls from parents expressing shock at the shooting.

"They just needed to talk to us, to know everything's fine here and the kids are fine," said Diana Cannon, a senior school secretary.

Petaluma city schools decided not to announce the news to students.

"I'm a parent too. That's how I would want it handled," she said. "Had it happened yesterday afternoon, there would have been some discussion around it. We didn't want to create a sense of panic."

Petaluma school officials said some high school students likely learned about the tragic event through their cellphones or mobile devices and there may have been some discussion in classrooms.

But "our decision was this was news best shared by family members and filtered in an age-appropriate way," said Dave Rose, director of student services.

By Friday evening, however, the Petaluma City School District was sending an automated phone message to as many as 6,000 households letting them know counselors will be available Monday for students who need assistance.

The message also advised parents to monitor their children's weekend consumption of information.

"Make sure students aren't overloading. Monitor online and electronic communication so they're not spending a lot of time engrossed in this incident," Rose advised.

As students learn about the shooting and absorb it over the weekend, Santa Rosa school officials are preparing for the possibility of some repercussions Monday.

"Next week, we will be part of a larger, broader discussion reassuring parents, staff and the entire community of our commitment to safety," said Santa Rosa Schools Superintendent Socorro Shiels.

Each school already has individualized safety plans that include emergency response to crises ranging from earthquakes to spills to a violent intruder on campus. Staff and students do drills to react to the scenarios.

In the wake of Friday's tragedy, schools likely will review emergency response plans with city officials and discuss how to prevent a similar incident, Shiels said.

Come Monday, she said, plans will be in place to have counselors, psychologists and other community partners available "should we have any families that have stress around what happened."

"It's an incredible tragedy. It feels along the lines of Columbine, something that deep that shapes how we do business," she said, comparing Friday's deaths to the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in which 12 students and a teacher were killed.

Shiels said it is especially unfathomable "in a community that values children to have this harm come to them in a place we consider safe and beyond this type of violence."

Shiels said there are no pat answers as to how teachers and counselors might discuss the matter with students.

"We can't predict how certain students might come back to us on Monday," she said, but she expects "to have a conversation, as necessary, based on questions, the emotions and feelings of students in class."