The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 26, 2007

News

CCHS remains calm after L-S tragedy

After confirming the shocking news last Friday, Concord-Carlisle High School Principal Art Dulong recognized that the CCHS community needed to hear quickly about the tragedy that occurred at Lincoln-Sudbury High School (L-S). An e-mail message was sent out to parents by 9:45 a.m., followed by an announcement to the student body in the late morning. In doing so, he closed down the rumor mill fed by students sending text-messages on their cell phones to friends and parents based on scant information. In addition, Dulong sent counselors to L-S to do whatever they could to be helpful.

In speaking to the student body, Dulong reassured them that the school is safe and that an experienced staff is there to help solve problems. He urged calm, vigilance and communication. "It is important to behave as a community, to report conflict to adults, to report concerns to adults and to support each other," he said.

Several CCHS counselors that were at L-S on Friday were part of a group that planned further actions. "They were working to support and collaborate with the excellent folks L-S already has on staff. We also had at least one staff member there throughout the weekend working with the L-S staff, parents and students," said Dulong. On Monday, four counselors were sent to L-S to provide additional assistance.

Interviewed on Monday morning Dulong said, "The students seem quite calm." There were no assemblies or group discussions this week. "This is exam week for us, so there will be no interruption of the exams for assemblies. The teachers and counseling staff are well aware of the potential stress that students might feel and are addressing that as it manifests itself," Dulong said. "Students and staff believe this is a safe school, that the adults in the community can be trusted to act in the best interests of students, and that what happened at L-S is a terrible and tragic aberration, not indicative of a lack of safety at suburban schools. It is more indicative of the fact that anything can happen anywhere at any time."

When asked if administrators, guidance counselors and special educators were going to review safety procedures, Dulong replied, "We do this regularly. We spoke again on Friday afternoon about that. . . From what is currently known, this event was not a breach of security, as far as I can tell."

Experienced staff provides emotional support

CCHS has staff to help students through emotional times. There are seven guidance counselors, four social workers, a fully qualified school psychologist and two school psychologists in internships. Dulong added, "We plan to hire an additional school psychologist for the next school year. We take student welfare very seriously." Even in fiscally challenging years, Dulong has not advocated the reduction of social workers or psychologists. "With all due respect to all of what we do to fulfill our mission, I have always believed that if students do not feel safe and emotionally supported, then nothing else matters. Without the security they will not be able to devote the time and energy they need to succeed academically."

Special Education Chair Tom Keane said that, unlike the Great Opportunities (GO) Program at Lincoln-Sudbury, CCHS does not have any collaborative special needs programs on site. There is an alternative program at CCHS, the Pathways Program, for students with emotional and/or psychological issues. Kathleen Pendergast is a special education teacher who heads up the program which includes a therapeutic component. Students meet with the school psychologists regularly. Communication is key to the program, with daily and weekly meetings of staff. A holisticview of the studentis taken, so academic and social aspects are discussed. There is constant communication with the parents of the students in this program as well.

Keane also addressed Asperger's Syndome, which gained media attention after it was reported that the perpetrator of the L-S killing had been diagnosed with the condition. Keane stressed, "Asperger's Syndrome does not go hand-in-hand with violence. Children may need help socially [but] what happened at L-S is an abnormality." In another e-mail to parents, Dulong emphasized, "Asperger's does not have anything to do with violent behavior. . . Asperger's is a behavioral syndrome along the autism spectrum that is characterized by an inability to read social cues, among other things. This results in the child with the syndrome often saying or doing something in social situations that might seem out of place. But the behavior they display is not typically anti-social, violent, threatening, abusive or otherwise problematic to others. There is no direct or indirect link between this syndrome and violent or anti-social behavior."

Keane said there is a lot of support available at CCHS for the well-being of all students, including two adjustment counselors. "There is a terrific collaboration of teachers, counselors and special educatorsThere is a lot of interfacing." The school has a protocol for teachers to share information with the guidance department. "We take every measure we possibly can."

Dulong said, "I know that anything can happen any time, but at CCHS we almost never even have a fight, because students are so quick to avail themselves of the help that is available. Many times friends will come in to report that their friend is upset, angry, emotional or whatever. They know that help is available and do not want the friend to be suffering through whatever is bothering them."

When asked if he sees any changes coming from this tragedy, Dulong replied, "Frankly, it's too soon to know. Without a doubt there will be lots of fact- finding and lots of discussions. I do not see us becoming a school with metal detectors, armed guards, etc....At some point in the near future, after the immediate concerns are past, I and department chairs will be meeting with the staff members who have been closer to the actual planning and conversations to debrief what CCHS can learn from L-S."


2007 The Carlisle Mosquito