Children across Western New York returned to school Monday to find patrol cars circling their campuses and extra school staff at the entrances, while nervous parents put on brave faces, trying desperately not to think about the horror that befell a Connecticut school three days earlier.
High school students at all Buffalo Public Schools were “wanded” one by one for possible weapons. The safety procedures caused a lengthy line at Hutchinson-Central Technical High School that continued long past the ringing of the morning school bell.
At Amherst schools, a patrol car was posted in every parking lot. “To be visible,” said Amherst Assistant Police Chief Charles Cohen.
Amherst police stayed in the lot, he said, instead of being posted at the front doors, because “you don’t want to scare the kids ... If anything, the adults felt more comfortable about the situation.”
Security was beefed up at Clarence schools, where state troopers were called in to patrol areas around each campus.
In Lancaster, school officials and town police were busy squelching a rumor circulating around Facebook and Twitter about some kind of school violence expected on Friday at the high school. The rumor had started early last week but took on a life of its own after the events in Connecticut.
“There is no truth to these rumors,” said district spokeswoman Pat Burgio.
Nonetheless, school and police officials have thoroughly investigated the rumors, increased police presence around the high school, met with student leaders and sent robocalls to parents alerting them to the rumor and what’s being done.
Lancaster Police Capt. William Karn assured that extra security precautions would be taken during the entire week.
School district websites across the region reassured parents that extra precautions were being taken but that officials were reviewing existing safety measures in light of the Connecticut tragedy.
Orchard Park schools posted a letter to parents explaining what steps were being taken. “Currently, our elementary buildings are locked and have a buzz-in system,” the letter stated. “Until further notice, all entrances will be locked and staffed with a monitor/greeter, including the Orchard Park High School, Orchard Park Middle School and the Baker Road building.”
Some schools asked parents for any suggestions they may have for improvements.
In Buffalo, the parent facilitator for the Olmsted schools sent out an online survey to parents asking: “How can the school district make our schools safer from violence of any kind? How can we better support students when they hear of national tragedies?”
David Ehrle, principal of the Global Concepts Charter School in Lackawanna, fielded calls from parents who told him they had shielded their children from news coverage over the weekend. The parents wanted to know whether their children would hear about it from their teachers. He told them they would not.
“Certainly, you can’t stop kids from talking on the bus or at the lunch table, but as a school we’re not, if you will, sponsoring educating about it,” he said.
Ehrle said teachers were told to assure kids who asked that the school was safe and send any apprehensive students to a counselor if necessary.
“Often, normalcy is the most comforting thing for the students,” he said. “That was the message that we sent out over the weekend to the staff, that we need to continue on doing what we’ve always done.”
East Aurora Superintendent Brian D. Russ encouraged parents to talk with their children about the tragedy but also keep in mind that “schools are one of the safest places for children and youth during the school day, and an important place for them to receive support and return to normalcy.”
That was tough for many parents Monday.
Cindy Reitebach, whose son is a fifth-grader at Armor Elementary in Hamburg, said “I love you” over and over as she put her son, Joey, on the school bus Monday morning.
He had insisted on taking the bus, she said.
Over the weekend, they had gotten phone calls from his school asking parents to tell children not to discuss the Connecticut killings among each other.
“I know the bus driver is going to count on me to make sure the kids aren’t talking about it,” Joey Reitebach told his mother, she said.
The mother knew the incident was weighing heavily on his mind. Cindy Reitebach is from Connecticut, so Friday night, before the family headed out to an evening party where she knew people would approach her about the school shootings, she decided to tell her son about what had happened.
The boy seemed ill through the party but didn’t say much about the tragedy during the weekend.
Then, Monday morning, before school, he mentioned he had written a new letter to Santa.
The mother asked if she could read it, and he did:
“Dear Santa, Never mind my Christmas list,” wrote Joey, who had previously written a letter asking Santa Claus for a Nook HD tablet and some related items. “All I want for Christmas is for all those little boys’ and girls’ families who kids got shot in that school to have a great Christmas. Please don’t give me anything. From Joey Reitebach.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org