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Lowellville parents express frustration in shooting aftermath

LOWELLVILLE — May 5 was a tragic day for Lowellville Local Schools when a seventh-grader shot himself during a lunch period. It changed how many students look at their school, and now some are calling on school officials to make changes.

Several parents at Wednesday’s school board meeting expressed frustration that no changes to procedures or progress toward changing them have been communicated to the public. Michele, a mother in the district who requested her last name not be printed, said she cannot believe she is considering not sending her child back to Lowellville, but right now, she does not feel confident that changes will be made that will make her and her child feel safe.

“I want proactive security measures, not reactive,” Michele said. “We shouldn’t have even had a weapon in the school in the first place. It is frustrating that no one seems to be working to fix that.”

Another mother who spoke at the meeting said she is supposed to drop her first child off at kindergarten this fall. She said she is worried she is putting her child in harm’s way.

“I graduated from this school, and I have lived here my whole life,” she said. “I am confident in what this school can do, but I don’t see anything being done right now.”

After a whole summer away from the campus, many students will need to prepare themselves to be back at the scene of the traumatic event when they return Aug. 22. Franci Crepeau-Hobson, chair of the National Association of School Psychologists’ School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, said students must know what they are walking into.

NASP’s School Safety and Crisis Response Committee counsels schools on what to do following a tragic event in the community.

Crepeau-Hobson said her committee tells schools to be transparent about any changes they are making to the school grounds, or transparent about why they feel no changes need to be made. Some students may even want to face the scene before the first day of school.

One parent at the meeting told the school board it should announce the changes that will be made well in advance of the start of the school year, so they can decide if it is enough to send their child back.

“Going back to the scene of a traumatic event can be triggering, so it can be helpful to make changes to the physical environment,” Crepeau-Hobson said.

Superintendent Christine Sawicki, who just started in the position June 8, has created an ad-hoc safety committee. This committee will send a survey out to the public in July and will create recommendations to send to the school board regarding new safety measures that will be put in place. Some will be implemented by the start of school, but others will come in the future.

School board member Jennifer Johnson said during the meeting that she fears the school’s silence is being taken as inaction. She assured those who spoke during the meeting that action is being taken, but no final decisions are ready to be shared with the public.

When students returned to school after the incident, they were met by support from the school, but it is unclear of what support, if any, will be offered this fall.

“After a traumatic event, we tell schools to get students back to school as soon as possible,” Crepeau-Hobson said. “Getting kids back to their routine is one of the best things we can do for healing. Children are amazing at getting through trauma, as long as the correct structures are in place.”

For most children, these structures are their usual support structures, including friends, family and teachers. For children who are close to a traumatic event, either physically or they are emotionally close to someone who was involved, more formal measures, such as therapy, may need to be taken in addition to those children’s usual support structures.

Crepeau-Hobson said the summer break will not change how the students deal with their experience, but it could give the school district time to gather their resources and make decisions about what to do moving forward.

“There will be changes made,” board member Brian Wharry said. “But, we haven’t finalized what that will look like for August. We would be lying to you today if we told you we knew exactly what we will do by August.”

The school handbook will be updated to reflect some of the ad-hoc committee’s recommendations.

Because this event was a suicide, Crepeau-Hobson said Lowellville Schools must be careful about how they talk about it, but they should talk about it.

“The worst thing we can do after a suicide is pretend there wasn’t a suicide,” Crepeau-Hobson said. “This person was struggling, and we can prevent other students from taking the same permanent measure in the future, but that has to be communicated.”

A way to do this, she shared, is to talk about suicide prevention without memorializing the event. By not giving attention to the individual and instead focusing on suicide prevention, the school will be simultaneously not encouraging others to take the same measure, and will be communicating resources for those who may be struggling.

Another important thing Crepeau-Hobson said the school should consider is the vast age difference in students at the school. She said a mistake she sees a lot of schools make after a crisis is to not talk to younger children about what happened. These children know something bad happened, but not any details, so their mind often fills in the blanks, which can be more damaging than adults being honest from the start.

Of course, she said it is important to share age-appropriate information, but some information should be shared.

For members of the public who want more information on helping those around them cope with this event, youth.gov has compiled a list of resources titled “Resources for Helping Youth Cope after a Mass Shooting.” Many of the resources apply to traumatic events in general. It was recently complied in response to the shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.

escott@tribtoday.com

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