WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Eight days after the school shooting in Parkland,
Florida, a Catholic high school more than 1,000 miles away conducted an active
shooter training -- planned two months ago -- that suddenly had added urgency.
the Feb. 22 training, teachers and administrators at Bishop McNamara High
School in Forestville, Maryland, just outside of Washington, were asked when was
the last time someone died in a school fire. The answer: 50 years ago. When
asked when was the last time someone died in a mass school shooting the answer
was last Wednesday.
of safety drills and discussion and training about how to respond to crisis
situations is something schoolteachers and administrators in public and
private schools across the country have long been accustomed to since the 1999
school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Catholic
schools have not experienced mass shootings, but school leaders know they are
not immune to these dangers and stress the need to be continually vigilant by
reviewing safety procedures and urging students to be responsible for each
the Florida shooting, Catholic school leaders received a link to the U.S. Department
of Education's resource guide for school emergency plans. Dominican Sister John
Mary Fleming, a member of the Dominicans' St. Cecilia Congregation in
Nashville, Tennessee, and executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education of
the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent the link in an email along with
the message that she knew many of them were reviewing their crisis and
emergency plans in their diocesan and school communities.
having a plan in place doesn't mean a school can rest easy. And over the years,
through learning from how school shootings have been handled, some safety plans
president and CEO of Bishop McNamara High School, and a graduate of the school,
said that years ago if there was a school intruder, the policy was to read a lockdown
code over the public announcement system that only those in the school would
know about. At this coed high school, for example, the announcement would ask Brother
Walter (a former principal) to come to the office. This code would let those in
the school know there was an intruder on the campus but didn't let the intruder
know that the school knew of his or her presence.
Clark said, that has all changed. If there is an intruder, the school will be
informed directly about what is happening and will be given as much information
as possible over the loudspeaker.
said in years past, safety training used to emphasize students getting under
some kind of cover, which doesn't make sense in the case of an active shooter, so teachers
and students are urged to consider where they would go or how they would respond
if a shooter entered a classroom.
weeks, the school planned to have a similar training session for students, but
for now, teachers and administrators were doing everything they could to assure
the students' safety and to answer their questions. Clark said there was "heightened
anxiety" in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas
High School but it didn't change his opposition to arming teachers with guns or
installing a metal detector at the school's entrance.
the school planned to continue doing what it has always done: have administrators
greet students at the door, urge students to be aware of anything not right and
report it, and work closely with the local police department and community
place a lot of trust in our school, a sacred trust," he told Catholic News
Service just hours after the training session.
Gossart, director of executive mentoring and coaching at the National Catholic
Educational Association, said parents often list safety as a top reason for
choosing Catholic schools.
the sense of safety could be in part because Catholic schools are typically
smaller than public schools and students and faculty know each other better. Catholic
schools also often do not have open campuses where students can leave during
lunch and come back. She said they also emphasize from early grades the need to
be "your brother's keeper" so that in class or a team, if something
is wrong with a student, the other students have a "moral responsibility
to step up to the plate" and do something which strengthens the school's
sense of family.
Mary Angela Shaughnessy, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth and an expert on school
safety, has been giving talks for years about what Catholic schools need to do
to be safe.
Currently a senior distinguished fellow at Loyola Marymount
University's Center for Catholic Education, Sister Shaughnessy is sure that all
Catholic schools are on board now with safety audits and procedures. She said
the only school shooting at a Catholic school since Columbine was a 2001
shooting at a rural Catholic high school in Pennsylvania where a 14-year-old girl
shot a classmate in the cafeteria.
not to say there haven't been threats to Catholic schools. She pointed out that
there was one in January in Toledo, Ohio, when a local high school and St.
John's Jesuit High School closed for a day after threats were made against both
schools on social media by a 14-year-old who faces two felony counts of making
Shaughnessy said "Catholic schools have been blessed" to not have
school shootings and she attributes it to active parents and the fact that
Catholic schools can be selective in who attends their schools, but she also
thinks they aren't immune and shouldn't let their guard down. She said schools must
continue to involve parents, students and communities, without scaring anyone
but to keep everyone alert of potential dangers and responses.
Catholic High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, did just that Feb. 15, the
day after the Florida school shooting.
school assembly the students prayed for the Parkland students and their
families and they were reminded about the school's safety plan and the need to
take it seriously. A letter sent home to parents from the principal stressed
that the students must be responsible for each other, speaking up when they suspect
a student may harm himself or wish to harm others.
"We are a family, and
this is what we do for each other," said the school's principal, Kurt
separate letter to parents, Janice Ritter, superintendent of schools for the
Charlotte Diocese, emphasized that student safety is a top priority.
we look at the events taking place throughout our country and our world, I
think we all realize, that even with advanced security measures and careful
implementation, not every tragedy can be anticipated or prevented. However, we
will continue to be conscientious and diligent in our safety and security