St. John's hosts Sandy Hook panel
This is the first of a two-part series.
Very rarely is Rev. Becky J. Beckwith in an elementary school.
Yet, that is where she found herself on the morning of the shooting in Sandy Hook. The pastor of St. John's United Church of Christ in Fullerton had gone to volunteer for a few hours at the school in Salisbury where her daughter, Jill Williams, works.
"Horrible, horrible things happen," said Beckwith, who was part of a panel Jan. 10 at St. John's which attempted to answer questions about the tragedy at Sandy Hook. In addition to Beckwith, panel members included Salisbury High School Guidance Counselor Lee Ann Kriner and Forensic Counselor Bradley R. Beckwith, MS, LPC.
Beckwith said she does not need to defend God because people have the ability to make their own decisions.
"We have choices, so things happen," she said. "If we didn't have the ability to make our own decisions, then I think we can blame God. If God is making all the decisions, then Sandy Hook is God's fault."
The pastor said she believes that on the day of the heartbreak, "God was falling apart in pain at what his creation can do to each other."
She believes God was in their midst, empowering some people to make certain decisions and giving gentle shoves to compel other people place themselves in front of somebody else.
She also acknowledged that human beings love to blame others.
"If that's what you want to do, go ahead; God can handle that," she said. "I am still sick to my stomach … but I'm not willing to give up freedom of choice."
She said she was pleased that people called her with questions such as how parents should talk about it with children. Due to the calls and concerns, she was careful about how to address the topic in her sermons.
Beckwith said a parent can do everything right and still have kids who do things they're not proud of.
"At any point it could be any one of us, so stop pointing fingers at each other and doing any judgment. Let's support each other," she said.
"The church is a community where we can disagree, agree to disagree, to not all think the same way, and yet know that God is here and present," said Beckwith in prayer.
When it was her turn to speak, Kriner discussed safety protocol in different types of emergencies.
In her career, which ranged from working in a preschool to a senior high school, Kriner has "seen it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly and the wonderful," she said. "There's a whole lot more wonderful than there is good, bad and ugly, and that's the best part."
Times have changed dramatically since Kriner first entered the classroom.
"We never locked doors. Parents came and went. We didn't have name badges," she said.
As tragedies took place, new policies required visitors to sign-in and students to use passes to move from one room to the next. Now her school is completely locked with only one door open for 15 minutes each morning.
As schools are being rebuilt and remodeled, "there are now cameras, and there are lots of them," she said, "and resistant glass."
Metal detectors help, "but kids are savvy," Kriner said. Detectors are cost prohibitive and won't catch everything.
Kriner said that every school is different, but some things are common to all schools. Every school has a protocol, typically established at the district level Principals then adjust the protocol to meet the needs of their buildings.
"We are doing the best we can to keep every child safe," she said. "There is no guesswork as to what we do and how to do it."
Most school districts have safety committees that meet regularly, Kriner said. Their goal is to refine, revamp and upgrade safety issues due to current situations. This could be as simple as rubber mats in hallways during the winter season to more intense issues.
Plans and revisions practiced by staff and students include fire drills, evacuations and lock downs. "One missing is not acceptable," said Kriner.
A couple of years ago, Salisbury had an active shooter training during a professional development day. The Salisbury police department worked with the high school and came in as shooters in their building. While the 50 or so staff were discussing questions in small groups, three masked men entered, firing pellet guns.
"It was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life," said Kriner, "It was terrifying. I have never heard so many grown people cry … but that's what we need to do to be able to respond if something similar were to happen."
She advises people to not worry because a police officer is in a school building. School resource officers are the best thing that can happen to your school, she said.
"Thank them," she said. "They give the student the opportunity to build report and respect that profession."
Kriner also stressed how important it is for staff to develop relationships with students.
"If they trust you, they come to you," she said.
Bomb treats happen regularly as soon as the weather gets warm, Kriner said. She instructs parents to not text kids while they are at school, because use of a cell phone can be a trigger if there truly is a bomb in the building. She also advises others to wai for official word before making assumptions.
"Rumor mills are so quick; what you hear is hearsay until you hear from a school official," Kriner said, adding that the earliest information reported on the Sandy Hook tragedy "was horribly inaccurate."
Kriner pointed out that Carbon Lehigh Intermediate Unit 21 provides trained professionals, called a "flight team," upon request for schools in need of crisis/trauma response. The immediate intervention services "are amazing," Kriner said, whose school has used the flight teams. "We are blessed to have them."
"We need you to know and be involved," Kriner said. "Start with elementary stranger dangers. Don't hesitate to check their phones and Facebook. You're their parent, not their friend. Be aware."
The second part of the series will cover comments by Forensic Counselor Bradley R. Beckwith, MS, LPC.