EAST PALESTINE - As students some 500 miles away in Newtown, Conn., began a tense journey back to their classrooms this week, a local school responded to the tragedy by re-evaluating its security measures.
East Palestine School District Superintendent George Fisk said the district, and specifically, the elementary school, already had a "very good plan" in place for emergency response, but felt the need to revisit the procedures after the Friday shooting in which 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.
As they watched the tragedy unfold, local parents made phone calls to Fisk wanting to know what their children's school safety procedure was.
"They just wanted to know if we are looking into things and wanted some comfort," he said.
School staff met Monday to go over the procedures and while Fisk said he is pleased with the plan, there is some room for improvement.
He didn't go into details on what areas need to be improved, but added that cooperation from the community and village police department has been, and will continue to be, extremely beneficial in making the schools as safe as possible.
A local resident who remains anonymous recently donated money to pay for the cost of having a police officer in the district and Police Chief Kevin Dickey performed a safety audit of the district with Fisk on Monday.
"We are very encouraged. We have a lot of things in place. There are a few areas we want to strengthen a little bit, but overall we have a good safety procedure and safety aspects in place with our district," Fisk said.
He added that Dickey was already working on getting officer Tom Wire in the district immediately after the Newtown massacre, and the anonymous donation helped get that in place.
"It's definitely something I felt we needed to do for the community just to put everybody at ease and let them know that the police department is there for them," Dickey said. "We want to ensure everybody we are doing everything we can do to make the kids safe and our schools safe."
Roughly 450 students attend East Palestine Elementary.
Fisk said that in prior years the district had a school resource officer but the position was terminated as a result of funding cuts. He said the possibility of returning that position to the district has been discussed over this year, but ultimately, funding will determine whether that will happen.
"Everything comes back down to finances. Hopefully, what the President said in his address to the nation, hopefully funding will (be available) to get officers in these schools and districts," he said.
The Newtown shooting is the largest mass shooting in U.S. history and while surrounding schools resumed classes this week, classes have not resumed at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Associated Press reported.
"I think those tragedies are just unfortunate, and hopefully if there is anything we can do better, we can learn from that tragedy and keep all of our kids safer," Fisk said.