Dr. Edwards’ Response to Newtown, CT Shooting

CSD logoThe City Schools of Decatur sent out this letter last night…

Dear City Schools of Decatur Families,

On Friday, a horrendous, unthinkable event occurred which shook our nation and each of us individually. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is unimaginable. We can only pray that the families who lost loved ones and the entire community may rely on one another as they try to recover and heal.

This is a delicate situation for you, as parents, and certainly for school system personnel. Please be assured that we make every effort to maintain a safe and secure environment for your child. We also want to be careful that to every extent possible, with all the media coverage, we do not further scare children in an unnecessary manner.

As parents, you have the responsibility of talking with your children and deciding how much to say and what is necessary for your child, depending on his or her age and questions. For parents, we offer you some thoughts which Dr. Ken Jackson, head counselor at Decatur High School, has shared:

We hope these will be useful to you as you have discussions with your children.

I have been in close contact with our principals and those in the role of providing support services throughout this weekend. Heidi Whatley, Director of Special Education and Pupil Services, has organized the counselors, social worker and other professionals who form our crisis support team. They will be available at school sites on Monday to assist students, teachers and administrators.

Meanwhile, principals and I will meet together to review several safety topics this Monday, and adjust any plans as needed. We will also ask that you help us by following the procedures and ensuring that others do as well. In times like these, it is important that we follow our normal routines as this will convey as sense of calm and security to the children.

I want to thank all of you for your support of our teachers and all of our staff. It is especially appropriate to thank to our our teachers, administrators and support staff for all they do for our students every day. Thank you for partnering with us to keep our students, staff and schools safe.


Dr. Phyllis Edwards


40 thoughts on “Dr. Edwards’ Response to Newtown, CT Shooting”

  1. What can we do, as the City of Decatur, to minimize the risk of certain types of guns in our community ? Can we impose stricter laws in terms of gun registration, concealed/open carry, or outright ban certain types of guns (assault rifles, semi-automatic pistols with high-capacity ammo clips, etc.,.) in the City ?

    I’m afraid the answer is our hands are mostly tied by federal and state laws written to protect 2nd Amendment rights, but it would be good to know if the City has looked into what gun laws *could* be enforced and not overturned in a state or federal court.

      1. That’s a far weaker response than you think it is. When is the last time someone committed mass murder witha knife or a car in this country?

          1. The rental truck didn’t kill anyone. The chemicals inside it did.

            DUI deaths are not intentional acts of murder, and are irrelevant to any discussion of gun violence.

            1. So DUI deaths are accidental and that makes the murder okay?

              And no, the rental truck didn’t kill anyone. Actually, the chemicals didn’t either – it was the person using them both to put the act in motion.

              Just like the gun cannot kill anyone unless there’s a finger pulling the trigger.
              I think you missed the point of his original reply…

            2. As drunk driving is an intentional act, causing the death of another while driving under the influence is considered a form of homicide in Georgia. It is not a perfect comparison to intentional murder using firearms, but one could draw parallels.

              Once upon a time, drunk drivers were considered a mild societal nuisance and the resulting fatalities were a price we paid for the freedoms we enjoy. This national mindset began to shift in the 1970s and resulted in discussion, tougher laws, and the creation of various organizations (such as MADD) in an attempt to tackle the problem by increasing awareness and by the expanded use of the criminal justice system.

              Deaths caused by drunk drivers have declined dramatically. Since the early 1980s, alcohol-related traffic fatalities per mile driven in the U.S. have declined by more than 300%.

              The killing of 26 innocent individuals at Sandy Hook Elementary School will nudge our country toward a meaningful discourse on gun control that will eventually occur, and it will result in reasonable measures being implemented. However, it take many years and many additional murderous incidents for us to get to that point.

      2. Come on. Let’s all take a deep breath and try to be gentle and kind with one another. At least when it comes to this subject.

        I am all for spirited debate. I engage in it quite a bit on this board. But, if you hadn’t noticed, DM shut down the comments on FFAF out of his dismay, “that in a time of great tragedy we just push each others buttons and turn on each other.”

        Take it easy. Ok?

    1. Not that I am a proponent, but cities can enact more restrictive legislation so long as the regulations aren’t unconstitutional and/or the local regulations don’t contradict county, state or federal laws. In the case of gun control, that leaves a very small window given the extension regulations at every level of government. Cities periodically try to enact gun control, and they often get struck down by the USSC (I think Chicago tried this in 2010 and the USSC ruled their ordinance unconstitutional). For example, I don’t think the city could ban those individuals with permits from carrying concealed weapons within the city limits.

      1. Municipalities sure can enact gun-related ordinances as they wish – in fact, it’s technically MANDATORY to own a gun in Kennesaw, GA, but that law and its fine for noncompliance are rarely enforced.

  2. ***Please, don’t let this discussion devolve into one similar to that of Free-for-all-Friday’s slugfest.***

    I highly recommend each of us read the information found at the links provided by Dr. Edwards. And to also appreciate the efforts the teachers, administrators and staff of the CoD school system are making to keep our children safe.

    I tried to talk to my children about it over the weekend and found I just didn’t have the words.

  3. After I received Dr. Edward’s email, I wondered about talking to my 6 year old daughter. I was pretty sure she knew nothing about the CT event. But I wondered if she has overheard information from classmates or if her teacher had/planned to discuss with the class, etc. She is a highly sensitive child so 1) if she had heard about it, she would have said something to me and 2) I was sort of at a loss as to how to talk to her about it without scaring her…or whether to even bring it up with her at all.

    So I emailed her teacher and asked about whether she was discussing it in class, had she heard my daughter’s classmates talking about it, etc. Her teacher also thought my daughter was not aware and she did did not have plans to discuss it withe the class.

    Then I saw this article that I thought was helpful: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/how-not-to-talk-with-children-about-the-sandy-hook-shooting/

    I think this is a more appropriate tact to take with younger children who aren’t as exposed to media as older kids and who truly are still in that more “self-centered” stage of life. I would rather my child be worried about whether she has been good enough for Santa to visit than whether a gunman might enter her school.

    Sometimes simplicity should rule.

    My two cents.

  4. I’m having trouble getting my comment to post! Trying again…

    I am grateful that CSD is being proactive so that teachers and parents know what to expect this week. I have friends who are teachers in other districts and states who are unsure how they will handle questions from students, and I think that’s poor planning on their principals’ or superintendents’ parts. I’m glad we don’t have that problem here.

    I’m also grateful that our teachers and administrators will not be addressing this matter with our children but will handle individual questions or concerns privately. It is just not something I think my first grader needs to be thinking about, although my older children were briefed on Friday. This is an excerpt from the note Principal Watson at Glennwood sent:

    “Important events provide educators with many teachable moments about the world we live in. However last week’s shooting was so horrific that we adults can barely comprehend it, let alone explain it to our young students. It is for this reason that Glennwood teachers and staff will not address the tragedy. With the help of school counselor Laura Deming, will be prepared to reply appropriately to students’ questions or concerns. Additional City Schools of Decatur personnel will also be at each school to assist as needed.”

    Thank you CSD, for everything!

    1. Ditto from me.

      My children have not been hearing a lot about this or talking about it much. But that’s their particular microscosms of friends; other CSD students may be very involved in discussions. We don’t tend to have continuous news playing on our TV and their computer use tends to be focussed on a few sites. Chatter at school today could change their experience.

    2. In the Arriba household, we abided by the media-free-weekend as much as possible.
      But on Sunday night, we told our 5th grader what happened so she would be aware when her friends discussed it.
      She said that Mr Roeden at Fifth Ave went to many, if not all, of the classes yesterday to discuss the issue. Our 5th grader didn’t seem too alarmed, so I believe it was a beneficial conversation.

      We did not discuss with our 2nd grader. She seems unaware, so I don’t believe she heard much from her friends or teachers.

      I really appreciate Dr. Edwards’ letter, and the resources she provided. I also appreciate, now, the closing of the doors at 8:00am each morning. I spoke with some co-workers who are in Cobb, and their front doors remain open during the school day – I doubt that will be the case going forward.

  5. I appreciated receiving the update from our Principal yesterday evening and from Dr Edwards so I knew how the schools planned to handle it.

    I think it’s also worth highlighting to our community, that as terrible as this is for everyone to hear about, and every parent to witness, I imagine it is so heartbreaking at another level for our teacher’s and administrators. I hope that we are all especially kind and gentle with them. They have a very difficult job of now thinking through how to ensure school safety but also at a personal level their sadness has got to be very complex.

    I know this morning I could barely look at my daughter’s teacher for fear of the emotion it would call up in me, knowing she would have do everything in her power to protect my daughter even at great sacrifice.

    1. My fifth grader came home grumbling that a boy at the next lunch table inflated his empty chip bag at lunch and then popped it – loudly. According to him, the teacher overreacted and everyone in the vicinity got sentenced to silent lunch tomorrow. I explained to him that generating a loud ‘bang’ at school this week was a terrible idea, and that many teachers are sad, preoccupied, and a bit on edge, and more likely to overreact. I told him to be understanding, that a break was coming that would do everyone good, and to take his book to lunch tomorrow.

  6. My children are both teenagers, but they were in elementary school on 9/11 and did not know about that tragedy until we told them the next day. We do all need to be gentle with each other. I hope this tragedy can lead to a respectful, fact-based discussion of gun rights, responsible gun ownership and the care of the mentally ill.

  7. Clearly this is a huge tragedy for our nation and this must be an unreal situation for those directly affected. I also agree that our children’s education about this topic should be provided by the parents and not the school system but the real question is can we do anything to prevent this in the future? I have an 8 year old in the Decatur School system and did tell her with very limited detail what happened, I believe that we cannot shelter our children completely from the real world and gave her some of the basics understanding that she may here about this at school or somewhere else. I did tell here that there were people in this world that do things that no one can understand and that we all need to understand that bad can always be around regardless of how hard we try to avoid them.

    That said what can we do to prevent this???? The first appears to jump on gun control. I agree that those of us who own guns have a responsibility to control them. To be honest, I grew up with guns but the gun was in one house and the ammo at my grandparent’s house. We used them to hunt and for sport but my father believed that even an educated child can have bad judgment and felt that by not having the two together reduced the risk. All precautions aside if a person wants a gun you can get one, it is just that simple. If you want to walk in a school 95% of the time you can regardless of the locks. So the challenges to secure our children and schools is a daunting task. We do not want them educated in security controlled cell. I do not have the answer to this question but know that we can help to improve both the awareness of the situation, we can do better about the security of our schools and we can educate our kids that there are in-fact people out there that do not care that they are cute and innocent.

    I am so sadden that this has happened, and I feel so bad for those families. I would however like to use this challenging event to spark evaluations of our current systems and accessibility of our schools. I do also think that this should be an opportunity for those children old enough (and by their own parents) to be told some hard truths about this scary world we now appear to live in.

    I am not the best writer but I hope that this comes across as a good or general comment because this topic could be so personal to so many

  8. I was under the impression from this response that this incident would not be a topic of discussion in class, especially at the elementary schools. Unfortunately, my FAVEr came home talking about it because she had seen it on CNN Student News in her classroom. I had no intentions of sheltering her from the event entirely, but I wanted to wait for the media frenzy to die down a bit more first…

    1. I am a fifth grade teacher, and at our school we decided to skip CNN Student News this week. Our principal asked us not to bring it up with our children, and to answer their questions by reassuring them that they are safe. I love student news, but I figured that constituted bringing it up, so we chose to err on the side of caution. In fact, I deleted the automatic RSS feed to my Edmodo site as well. I think it is up to each parent to decide how to handle this tragedy with their children.

    2. Kids are going to hear about it. I don’t think that we should try to hide it. We should just explain and assure them that they are safe.

    3. I was in Grade 5 when Columbine happened, and it was shown on NewsDepth (a student news program our school showed every week) and in the mass-market student news magazine we all read and wrote reports on. We discussed the tragedy in class and had a teacher-led discussion of what happened, why, and how to prevent it from happening again, including a campaign to encourage students to speak up to teachers about classmates who might be contemplating violence. I think there was a parental opt-out form sent home before these activities happened, as well as a letter to parents about safety, new “zero tolerance” policies, and resources for counseling and therapy for parents & students, including the school psychologist.

      I think it was an appropriate response – I never quite trusted my parents to be honest with me about “grownup” stuff like that, and it meant a lot to not only be reassured by the school that I was safe, but to also be involved in a discussion about preventing future violence.

      Of course, opt-out should always be an option.

    4. To be clear, I’m not insinuating that the response by the schools was inappropriate. I am simply stating that the letter form the superintendent had led be to believe that this incident would not be the topic of discussion in the elementary schools and that I as the parent of my child should take the responsibility of how much to say and when. I was taken off-guard when that turned out to not be the case. I might have done things a little differently if there had been one more sentence in that letter that stated the principals would be coming to the classrooms to talk about it and that the kids would be watching CNN.

      s, if you read my comment again, you will see that I am not trying to “hide it” from my child.

      Live and learn. My child wasn’t scarred by my misunderstanding, and I’ll know better how to read a letter form the schools in the future.

    5. My FAVE 5th grader reports that in his class, they watch CNN Student News only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and today they did not watch it. Though I’ve watched Student News with my son on iTunes before during breaks, and I’d feel comfortable with how they presented the story.

      I think it’s impossible to avoid talking about it if you have any exposure to media at all. We were watching a football game on ESPN Friday night, and when they had a moment of silence, my son asked me why, and I gave him a brief explanation.

  9. Still cannot wrap my head around this tragedy. One thing’s for sure: there can’t be any kind of meaningful discussion about gun (or any) violence in this country without including the near-complete lack of a safety net for the mentally ill. I fear any school safety measures that may be enacted will be largely illusory as long as that issue goes unaddressed on a national level.

    1. It’s so obvious that we have completely inadequate treatment options for children, teens, and young adults with mental illness or drug addiction that I assume all know that. Even fairly affluent parents cannot manage more than a month in a treatment facility, and that’s affluent parents with health insurance who can find an available bed. It’s a horror. And I’m not even mentioning adults because parents don’t have a prayer of being able to control what happens to their grown children with mental illness. Read “Beautiful Boy” to get a feel for how hopeless it can be–and that was written by a highly educated, well-connected, affluent, involved and caring father.

      Access to assault weapons + mental illness + addiction to violent video games/media + notoriety of school shootings = perfect storm.

    2. “One thing’s for sure: there can’t be any kind of meaningful discussion about gun (or any) violence in this country without including the near-complete lack of a safety net for the mentally ill.”

      True, although in this particular case, the mother was, by all accounts, quite well off, so resources should not have been a problem. Of course, the mother may have had some mental health issues herself. If the reports are true that she frequently took her disturbed son to shooting ranges…well, I find that hard to comprehend.

      1. Agreed. I read this morning that her alimony alone was $250k per year, and her former husband is a VP at GE, and had been a partner at a major accounting firm before that. It seems very unlikely that resources were any sort of issue here.

        To be fair, the reports seem to indicate that the shooter was known to be odd and quite introverted, but I have not seen anything suggesting he had displayed violent tendencies. (I could well be wrong.) Taking him to a supervised shooting range probably did not seem problematic at the time. That said, one wonders what steps the mother took to secure the guns at home.

          1. That comment seemed more about the child being impulsive and needing supervision than violent. Obviously, he became violent at some point it’s easy to see clues retrospectively.

        1. This Mom obviously was well off but $250,000/year only covers 6 months of inpatient treatment at $40,000/month which is what I hear inpatient facilities cost after you use up your miniscule few weeks worth of health insurance benefits. And that’s assuming her house was paid off and she had no living expenses. My point isn’t that she wasn’t affluent but that chronic treatment for the severely mentally ill is hard for all but the incredibly rich to afford. And that’s if beds are available. There has been a steady decline in options for the severely mentally ill over the last 30 years. It would take years and years to fix this. And that’s if there were political will to do so. Unfortunately, people do not recognize the scope and depth of this problem until they are responsible for a loved one who they either have to bankrupt themselves over or abandon over time.

          In this case, maybe the mental illness was of recent origin or not recognized since we aren’t hearing of a history of treatment. I heard a good piece on the radio this morning in which a mental health expert stated that we have no good way to systematically figure out who is mentally ill and predict which one of those persons is likely to be violent and keep assault weapons away just from them and criminals.

  10. I just hope that people stay vigilant and don’t hand over their rights because of fear. I’m not talking about gun rights by the way, but civil liberties I hope school systems don’t start normalizing security and surveillance to our youth by requiring armed guards and metal detectors at elementary schools. Give it some time and let the fear subside. The community affected will take a long time to heal, but we don’t need a bunch of local politicians and administrators coming up with knee jerk reactions to this tragedy.

  11. “I hope school systems don’t start normalizing security and surveillance to our youth by requiring armed guards and metal detectors at elementary schools. ”

    Not sure why this would be a problem, especially an armed officer. Leaving aside how effective it might be in preventing mass shootings, there could be other reasons to justify it, like parents with custody issues causing disturbances, etc. As for normalizing security and surveillance, that, unfortunately, is the reality of America now.

  12. I have a kid in 3rd, one in 7th and one in 10th. We have told them all about it because there doesn’t seem to be any way to shelter them from the news and from discussions that will come up with their friends. I found the article below and the Mr. Rogers quote that inspired it to be the most effective way to explain this to my kids even with their wide difference in age. We discussed “the helpers” with all of them individually. It really helped them cope with the horror of the whole thing and it was interesting to see how, based on their maturity level and temperament, each one processed the idea of helpers. The youngest processed it in a very simple way and it worked for him because it changed his focus. The oldest really thought through what it means to be a hero and how she and her friends/teachers would react in a situation like that, and that was helpful and empowering to her.

    Anyway, here is the link….. It’s a beautiful piece…..


  13. Here’s the actual Fred Rogers quote… Boy we sure could use him around this week…..

    “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” –Fred Rogers

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