Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Alaskans Express Solidarity With Sandy Hook Victims; Alaska School Districts Reassure The Public About Their Security

Although Alaska is about as far away from Newtown, CT as one can get, the hearts of many Alaskans are just across the street from Sandy Hook Elementary School. Affected Alaskans assembled for candlelight vigils, and Alaska school officials briefed the public about their own security measures.

On Monday December 17th, 2012, hundreds of Anchorage residents showed up for a candlelight vigil at Central Lutheran Church as part of a citywide "Vigil of Lament" organized by Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations (AFACT). A bell rang for every person who lost their life in the massacre in Connecticut. Typical reaction was expressed by Anchorage mother Jackie Duffield, who said “I can only imagine how those parents felt, losing their children, and I wanted to support them. They're never going to be forgotten, they're our children too, as a community they were our children too." A gallery of 14 photos is also available.

An Anchorage radio station, KMVN, also known as Movin' 105.7, is collecting cards and letters to send to Sandy Hook Elementary as part of their "MOVIN Stamps to Sandy" program. Until December 28th, individuals will be able to drop off their cards and letters to honor the victims and to show support for the Newtown community. Items will be collected at 4700 Business Park Boulevard, Building E, Suite 44 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

On Sunday December 16th, Palmer residents Gerald Gray and Misty Milligrock organized a candlelight vigil outside the Palmer Library to honor the memories of those lost in the massacre. Participants braved below-zero temperatures to light candles and write messages of hope and support to those affected by the tragedy.

Meanwhile, Alaska's two largest school districts were quick to account of themselves to the public. Anchorage School Superintendent Jim Browder issued condolences on December 14th, in which he reminded the public that ASD places student and staff safety as a top priority, routinely practicing emergency drills, including lockdown measures for crisis situations that could involve school intruders. He said ASD staff is trained in emergency procedures and all schools have an Emergency Action Plan. ASD also continues the School Resources Officer program, with each high school having two APD officers assigned.

However, a follow-up report in the News-Miner discloses that Sandy Hook actually had more robust security measures than ASD. Consequently, Dr. Browder has asked Mike Abbott, the district's chief of operations, to assess security school by school. Dr. Browder wants to know if teachers can lock their classroom doors from the inside, the location of security cameras, and if individual schools have panic buttons or silent alarms. Additional security measures contemplated by Dr. Browder include fencing the entire periphery of schools, locking front doors all day, and beefing up security staff. The next regular school board meeting isn't scheduled until January 10th at 6:30 P.M.; those who have concerns about school security can sign up to testify.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District was already in the process of reviewing security; on December 14th, Fairbanks Police Chief Laren Zager and deputy chief Brad Johnson met with district officials to discuss the school resource officers program as well as security, cameras and communication. This meeting had already been scheduled, and is a recurring event. Since 2009, two Fairbanks police officers have been serving as schools resource officers during the school year, one at Lathrop High and the other at West Valley High School. The district also has two full-time safety liaisons who respond to schools across the district on attendance issues, security, crisis plans and training. In addition, most of the secondary schools have from one to three safety assistants depending on school size, and multiple security cameras are installed in buildings throughout the district. Metal detectors have been discussed, but no action taken. Chief Zager rates the school district’s security in the top 25 percentile.

The most recent school shooting in Alaska took place on February 19th, 1997 when Evan Ramsey killed two people and wounded two others at Bethel Regional High School. He is serving two 99-year prison sentences and will be eligible for parole in 2066.

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