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West Orange School District Reacts to Newtown Tragedy

Cynthia Cumming

Saturday, December 15, 2012 • 1:44pm

WEST ORANGE, NJ  -  West Orange joins with the rest of the world as we all struggle to comprehend the tragic events that transpired yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut. Residents are all broken hearted over the deaths of innocent children during a season that brings kindness, love, and family into the forefront.  

Mayor Parisi issued a short statement, saying, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by the tragic events in Newtown CT today. Horrific & heartbreaking."
 
President Obama paused throughout his statement yesterday, wiping tears from his eyes as he said "We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action, regardless of the politics."  It is believed that the shooter, 20 year old Adam Lanza, used his mother's guns to kill her and then went to Sandy Hook Elementary, his former grammar school and laid siege to school personnel and two classrooms full of children. In the end, 26 children between the ages of 6 and 11, 6 adults, and the shooter himself, were dead.
 
West Orange parents wept as the news of the shootings and the incalcuable pain and loss they brought as the news developed throughout the day.  Perhaps the greatest fear a parent has is the loss of a child, and this tragedy, now considered the second largest school shooting in American history, is second only to the massacre at Virginia Tech University that killed 32 people in 2007. Expressions of grief filled the walls of Facebook last night, as parents, friends, and relatives hugged their children and prayed for the victims and their families.
 
Teachers in the West Orange School District also grappled with the shootings. "Words cannot express my sadness over the events in Connecticut" noted Chris Yonitch, Elementary School teacher at Washington. "I'm not a parent yet but being a teacher, my heart is heavy for those who became angels yesterday. School should be the last place where children and teachers should experience fear," said Amanda Hegedus, teacher at Redwood.
 
Laura Lab, Board of Education President, commented, saying:
 
"This massacre is so horrifically unconscionable and depraved it hurts to my very core that this unspeakable act was not only considered but executed.  My deepest condolences and prayers go out to all the families and the community. They will need support for a long time.  The ensuing stories coming out of the tragedy of the bravery by staff members gives us comfort knowing that the assailant's attempts to inflect even further harm were thwarted. 
 
West Orange families need to know the district is diligent and compliant in all of the best practices required by the State Department of Education as well as the parameters and mandates of the Memorandum of Agreement with the local law enforcement officials.  Our very first charge is the safety and the well being of our students.  To that end, we have cameras, intercom systems and required protocol, including 2 emergency drills a month that are adhered to and practiced in all buildings. Superintendent O'Neill already had a meeting planned with administrators and police personnel to review all protocols in January and now the timing of that meeting now only re-enforces the District's commitment to the safety of our students and staff."
 
Interim Superintendent Jim O'Neill issued a statement, which was posted on the www.woboe.org wesite:

Superintendent's' Response to Connecticut School Tragedy

​THE WEST ORANGE SCHOOL COMMUNITY EXTENDS OUR DEEPEST SYMPATHY TO THE FAMILIES IN NEWTOWN, CT.  THE TRAGEDY IMPACTS ALL FAMILIES AND SCHOOL PERSONNEL ACROSS THE NATION. WE DO WANT TO ASSURE OUR OWN FAMILIES THAT WE HAVE MULTIPLE PROCEDURES IN PLACE TO DEAL WITH ANY CRISIS SITUATION.  STUDENTS AND STAFF ENGAGE IN DRILLS EVERY MONTH AND WE HAVE A CRISIS PLAN THAT IS APPROVED BY BOTH THE LOCAL POLICE AND TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE.   CAMERAS ARE INSTALLED AT THE ENTRANCE TO ALL SCHOOLS; VISITORS MUST BE BUZZED IN BY SCHOOL PERSONNEL; THERE ARE 2 DRILLS CONDUCTED IN EACH SCHOOL EVERY MONTH; ONE OF THE 2 DRILLS IS AN EMERGENCY DRILL; RECENT EVENTS IN TOWN WHICH RESULTED IN THE EVACUATION OF ROOSEVELT AND A LOCKDOWN AT BOTH PLEASANTDALE AND THE HIGH SCHOOL TELL US THAT STAFF AND STUDENTS ARE WELL TRAINED AND RESPONDED APPROPRIATELY IN THESE UNPLANNED CIRCUMSTANCES.  WE THINK IT IS PRUDENT FOR PARENTS TO BE CONCERNED BUT WE ALSO BELIEVE WE ARE ENGAGED IN BEST PRACTICES AND BELIEVE WE HAVE TAKEN ALL THE STEPS TO ASSURE YOUR CHILD IS SAFE IN THE WEST ORANGE SCHOOLS. THANK YOU IN ADVANCE FOR YOUR CONFIDENCE.

Jim O’Neill, Interim Superintendent

In fact, protocols in place helped Roosevelt Middle School deal with a bomb scare on December 3, and on the same day, West Orange High School and Pleasantdale school went into lockdown after an armed robbery at TD bank.
 
Last Sunday evening, a heartfelt Candlelighting tribute to children whose lives ended too early was sponsored by the Nikhil Badlani Foundation.   The team at the West Orange Alternative Press joins with everyone in offering our heartfelt prayers and love to those that have been affected by this incredible tragedy.
 
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