A loud bang at Windham High School prompted a precautionary sweep by police yesterday morning.
People are wary, just trying to stay safe, after the Sandy Hook massacre.
“We’re all on a heightened sense of alert,” principal Tom Murphy said.
Windham High students were “sheltered in place,” an alert level below a lockdown that lets teachers continue classes. Students remain in classrooms until cleared to leave.
“There was a loud bang, no one knew what it was,” School Administrative Unit 28 business administrator Adam Steel said.
Assistant principal Bob Dawson heard the noise.
“He looked a little bit nervous,” Murphy said.
Police searched the building, a process that took less than a half hour.
“Nothing of any suspicion was found,” Steel said.
One student, who was in the restroom at the time, called her mother to make sure it was safe to come out, Steel said.
Windham is going through what every school district, every community in America, is right now.
“I’m sure every parent, throughout the country, is on the edge of their seat after Friday,” Windham School Board Chairman Bruce Anderson said.
“A lot of people were apprehensive about sending their kids off to school today,” said Brenda Willis, executive director of the 11,000-member, Derry-based New Hampshire PTA.
New Hampshire parents also are truly grateful, she said.
“They are thankful for the people in the schools and the safety plans that have been incorporated in the schools,” she said. “Everything I’ve heard is people are being grateful.”
Parents know it could have happened anywhere, even New Hampshire.
“As a parent you say, ‘Oh, my God, that could have been my own child,’” Derry Village School PTA co-president Andrea Crowell said. “My heart absolutely breaks for those parents. I have a child in first grade. Those are my child’s peers. It’s not that far away. It could have been here.”
“Nobody thinks something like that is going to happen,” Willis said. “It’s just horrific.”
Willis expects parents will want to be sure their kids are safe after Sandy Hook.
“I do think people will definitely ask more questions,” she said.
That is already happening.
“I had a plethora of emails over the weekend from parents wanting assurance we have done our due diligence and have the appropriate security,” Superintendent Henry LaBranche said.
He has been letting parents know of the school district’s heightened awareness and he said the response from parents has been positive.
Windham has a school resource officer, but officials have requested more of a police presence this week.
As Steel called from Windham Middle School with details about the high school situation, a Windham officer was stopping for a routine check.
“The police are going to be very visible for the near future,” Steel said.
Windham staff and administrators were conferring about safety procedures and protocols. They were reviewing practices, but also considering what could be done better.
Steel said the decision already has been made to make sure entry doors at two schools that haven’t been regularly locked, the Middle School and Golden Brook School, will be locked. Until new security systems are in place, people will man the doors as they have in the past.
Windham isn’t alone.
Superintendent Michael Delahanty anticipates School Board discussion in Salem, as soon as tonight, about whether to install electronic entry systems at five schools that lack them.
“Those are the kinds of things I’m hearing from parents about,” Delahanty said.
He estimates he’s heard from a couple of dozen parents.
“Some just want to know if we are going to be talking about security measures,” he said. “Some are concerned about leaving entry doors open.”
Delahanty is meeting this week with the police and fire chiefs to review security. A separate meeting with school resource officers also will be held.
Salem has emergency plans, and staff and students are drilled in them.
“While no plans will prevent every type of threat, our plans are strong,” Delahanty told parents in a memo on the district website.
Pelham police Chief Joseph Roark announced an increased police presence at schools.
“In lieu of this past week’s tragedy at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut, I would like to take this opportunity to reassure the community that there will be an additional police presence at our schools this week in addition to our regular school resource officer patrols,” Roark said in a message to citizens. “We will also be looking to review, test and improve our existing school security protocols.”
Derry Cooperative School District superintendent Laura Nelson formally assured parents the town’s schools have a comprehensive emergency management and crisis plan in place. The district, she said, drills throughout the year and had a training and review session just 10 days ago.
“Derry school officials continue to work closely with police, fire and town officials to ensure student safety,” Nelson told parents.
There was an added police presence at schools during dismissal Friday and again when students arrived yesterday morning, Nelson said.
“We think parents are pleased with that,” she said.
Derry parents also were contacting the school district. Nelson reported several calls received yesterday morning.
“They were looking for reassurance that we have an appropriate emergency management plan in place,” Nelson said.
New Hampshire schools are making counseling available to students who need it following Sandy Hook.
The Salem district also has posted on its website resources to help parents talk to their children about the tragedy.