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Different grade levels handle schoolwide lock down drills differently

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SACKETS HARBOR — The Sandy Hook massacre hasn’t made much of a difference for many students going to this small central school.

Most students and teachers at Sackets Harbor Central School knew to take Tuesday’s lockdown drill seriously — but without fear — because they have been doing it for the past seven years.

“I wouldn’t say that there isn’t any anxiety, but we’ve done it often enough that we’re comfortable with our procedure,” Sackets Harbor Teachers Association President Sean C. Haley said.

Mr. Haley teaches seventh and 11th grade social studies and advanced placement U.S. history.

“We took them seriously before, and we take it seriously now,” Mr. Haley said.

The lockdowns have moved from annually to biannually since December. No one except district administrators and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department knows what day or time the drill will occur. No call to 911 or county dispatch is made.

Because students already are tucked away in their classrooms, the district uses the opportunity to have the sheriff’s department K-9 narcotics unit visit and learn the floor plan of the school. School administrators walk through the halls, checking classrooms to make sure they cannot see anyone.

Most students, especially those in upper grades, do not get anxious about these drills.

“You just assume it’s a drill,” said senior Joshua C.T. Keruski, 17.

But that does not mean it is a chance for students to goof off.

“We never want to be caught off guard if something did happen,” said senior Brian D. Elliott, 16.

Mr. Keruski agreed.

“Before Sandy Hook happened, it was just like, go hide and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “But it happened at an elementary school; it can happen anywhere.”

Mr. Keruski said the drill, which took place at 8:40 a.m., caught him off guard in the hallway.

“Our guidance counselor was right next door, and he called us in his office to hide in there,” he said.

Superintendent Frederick E. Hall Jr. said the drills, whether for fire, outdoor evacuations or lockdown, span different times of the school day so students and teachers can always be prepared — even when it is inconvenient. Teachers are trained every year on how to handle students who may be in an unstructured environment, such as physical education or on the way to class.

“The amount of time they’re exposed to danger is minimized,” he said. “Every year, we review these plans.”

He said it is usually just seconds before the entire school is locked up and quiet after a lockdown is called over the intercom.

“It was eerily, eerily calm here,” he said. “Seconds count, and that’s all I’m going to say. You don’t want to see a room where the teacher is still teaching.”

Letters are sent to parents after the drill to tell them what happened and encourage them to sign up for Ed-Alert. The Internet tool informs parents via text message if there is ever a real emergency at the school.

Not all students know what to do when a lockdown is called, however. Kathryn M. Reichhart’s kindergarten class is still learning how to be quiet.

“I tell them we want to pretend we’re not in the room,” she said. “We’re trying to make it a game because some of them get frightened.”

She had to talk to some children who started poking each other and getting rambunctious with their classmates.

“I don’t want to scare them, and I don’t want to be the one to tell them about world events,” she said.

As a teacher who deals with younger children, she said, she felt anxiety during past drills.

“The first time we had one after Newtown, my heart was pounding,” she said. “We never know when something could happen. The element of surprise is always best, because we’ll always follow through with these routines.”

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