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First priority

School safety is Clarke’s main concern, especially after Sandy Hook shootings

"Find a way to make things better" is the message Clarke Elementary Principal Brandon Eighmy wrote on the chalkboard outside the school's front office Wednesday, Dec. 19.
OST photo by AMY HANSEN "Find a way to make things better" is the message Clarke Elementary Principal Brandon Eighmy wrote on the chalkboard outside the school's front office Wednesday, Dec. 19.

“Keep moving forward.”

This was the sentence Clarke Elementary Principal Brandon Eighmy wrote on the little chalkboard outside the school’s front office Monday, Dec. 17.

The statement was subtle, yet it had a purpose after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn.

For Clarke Community School District, a meeting was held Dec. 17 in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, which killed 20 young students and six school-staff members, all of whom were women.

Same language

For procedures with lockdowns and evacuations, the district uses the same code languages so everybody understands what to do in case of an emergency.

Eighmy said the purpose was to make sure everybody is “on the same page.”

“We have very specific measures in place for where students need to be,” he said, “where students need to go whether, obviously with fire and tornado, but also with lockdown and evacuation, like if there’s a chemical spill or something like that.”

Since the Newtown, Conn., shootings, the district has gone over the emergency plans and policies, again, to see if things needed to be updated or revamped.

Every teacher gets instructions on what needs to happen during a lockdown if he or she is in a classroom, coatroom or outside the building.

“It becomes a really difficult situation, of course, when you have kids out on the playground right here, and a lockdown means … we aren’t letting people back into the building,” Eighmy said.

Meeting places

In Newtown, Conn., the meeting place for an emergency was the town’s fire department.

Eighmy said there are places in the community designated for emergencies, but it’s not something that is shared openly with the media for safety reasons.

“We don’t want that to be common knowledge for there to be a bigger issue — evacuate the building and then have another issue with our secondary location,” he said.

Staff members have maps of their buildings with all of the entrances marked. The elementary school has 16 entrances.

Only a couple of the entrances are unlocked during the day, like the main entrance, which is viewed as a high area of public traffic.

Teachers also have class lists and contact information, which can be utilized for attendance purposes in case of an evacuation.


Eighmy said, at the Dec. 17 meeting, teachers expressed concerns with how parents come into the building, who can come into the building and making sure information is known, as far as students leaving with specific parents.

“We just needed to go back and reevaluate the entire system to make sure that our entire system made sense,” he said. “You can’t plan for everything. I mean, when somebody wants to do something that devastating, you can’t plan for everything.”

Another point of concern was some classroom doors don’t lock from the inside, they keylock from the outside.

Eighmy said most teachers in the elementary school teach with their door open because students are always coming and going during the day.

Automatic locks

Another issue that has emerged is whether or not all doors should be automatically locked by a certain time of the day, especially in the morning.

Earlier this year, at Sandy Hook, the school principal, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, ordered a new security system installed that required visitors to be visibly identified and buzzed in. As part of the security system, the school locked its doors each day at 9:30 a.m.

The door was locked when the gunman arrived, and authorities believe the shooter used an assault weapon on the door to gain entrance into the building.

This issue has come up at Clarke.

“This isn’t my school, it’s our school. It’s our town’s school and it’s our parents’ school,” Eighmy said. “We want people to feel welcome to come into our school. We’re not going to come into it every day and be afraid. That’s no way to live.”

He added, the district has to balance safety, which is the first priority, with a welcoming environment based on education.

A buzzer system, Eighmy said, is an option that’s still on the table.

As for other safety measures, Osceola Police Department is doing a district-wide audit of the school buildings.

Staying strong

While the nation mourned the loss of life at Sandy Hook, Eighmy said people weren’t ruled by fear. There was no drop in attendance the Monday after the shootings with parents wanting to take their children out of school.

As for Eighmy’s personal response as an elementary principal to the shootings, he said, “Your heart just goes out to all those families.You know, I’ve kids of my own in this school, and you just feel so terrible for everyone involved. The parents and the teachers and everybody, because it’s just such a devastating event. It’s so tragic that it would happen, and it happened in an elementary school with such young kids.”

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