When it comes to keeping kids safe, being a tattletale isn't such a bad thing.

In the wake of the recent Virginia Tech shootings, Superintendent Claudia Bach said that the district's best defense from school violence is each other.

"We always remind our principals to remind their teachers that we think the best protection we have is to enable students and faculty members to say, 'I don't feel comfortable around this person,' " Bach said.

Individual emergency management plans at each of the district's schools, as well as an emergency plan for the central office, have been in effect for years. Those plans were updated immediately following the Columbine High tragedy of 1999, where students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide.

Updated again in the fall, emergency practices are tailored to the grade level, she said.

"In the younger grades, we get rather creative," Bach said, using the example of how one district elementary school uses a stuffed skunk to warn of a perceived threat.

"If you see 'Stinky' around, we close all the classrooms," Bach said, explaining how schools may protect their students without frightening the younger kids.

All 10 of the district's schools have practiced lockdown drills, she added. In between those drills, however, Bach said she keeps in mind that most threats aren't serious ones.

"But we don't take anything for granted, we still know anything can happen," Bach said. "We continue our training, we continue keeping our plans up to date."

Typically, school principals will call the police to report cases of students threatening others.

"Then they call me," Bach said.

This year she said she's had one or two calls from principals.

"It's not really common," Bach said. "Typically, it's a couple of times per year."

As part of the process, the offending student will meet with teachers, the principal, school guidance counselors and, if warranted, a psychologist.

"They are all part of the process; these are the experts," Bach said.

Also part of the process, she noted, is being able to distinguish between something that's a foolish act and something of a more malicious nature. An example of this, Bach said, is when a student sets off the fire alarm. "One kid does it, then other ones say 'this looks like fun,' " Bach said.

"That's why they're still kids," she added, emphasizing that such an offender would be told why this wasn't such a wise decision.

"We'd let them know that they've disrupted the day, that they've scared people," she said.

When threatening graffiti was found in school bathrooms in Andover a few years ago, Bach notified parents and administrators and police investigated.

"In 99 percent of cases it is a child who is playing a prank; we take all these things very seriously," Bach said.

Should a bona fide crisis occur, the schools call on a regional team of police officers and SWAT team known as Northeast Law Enforcement Council, which includes police from 48 local communities.

Local police and detectives often investigate, and psychiatrists and psychologists may also be brought in.

Andover police Lt. William McKenzie of Andover said that events such as the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech have changed the way that schools prepare for violence and led them to work more closely with local police.

"Every time something happens, like Virginia Tech, it sparks interest," he said.

Bach said there are definite repercussions for students who threaten their teachers and peers. "The police would very possibly take some legal action but not always," Bach said "In-house, there's almost always a suspension."

Parents are immediately alerted, she added. "The child, the principal and the parents spend a lot of time meeting, to determine if the child returns to school, " Bach said. When necessary, this decision is made with the help of a psychological assessment, she emphasized.

"Our goal is to let the child return, but we need to make sure all the students are safe" Bach said.



The Eagle-Tribune reporter Drake Lucas contributed to this story.

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