Fears were very real prior to, not after, Elkhart school threat
Posted: 04/24/2013 at 3:30 pm
By: Bill Beck
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Carla Darr, first-grade teacher at Mary Daly Elementary, gets an embrace from one of her students on Wednesday morning. (Truth Photo By Bill Beck)
Jennifer Dado, a student-teacher at Mary Daly Elementary in Elkhart, works with a first-grader on Wednesday morning.(Truth Photo By Bill Beck)
Chairs perched on top of desks. Beetles were still crawling in a terrarium. They saw “Miss Darr’’ was there to greet them.
It was an otherwise normal Tuesday, April 16 day in the lives at Mary Daly Elementary.
“They came in happy. No questions ... nothing,’’ Darr said.
One would never know that the day before, 70 percent of Daly’s enrollment stayed home and shared the fear of an area-wide school threat scare tactic.
It’s been a little more than a week since investigators revealed a threat directed at schools, though no specific schools had been identified.
Elkhart Community Schools respectfully asked media to keep a distance from schools last week. Since then, tensions have eased and apprehensions have been, for the most part, removed.
According to school staff, it was a sad day, not necessarily one full of fright. For the kids who did go to class, there were few, if any, fears.
Emotions didn’t emerge in the emptiness of Monday, April 15. There were no open displays or questions of fear the next day, either.
But the Friday afternoon before kids left class for the weekend was a beast of its own.
Kids were nervous. Some had headaches. Some were throwing up in class.
“The Thursday and Friday, a lot of fear. Most of the conversation was prior to Monday,’’ said Darr, a veteran of 29 years in the Elkhart Community School system. “The kids were concerned for us as teachers ... ‘Are you going?, Are you going to be there? You going to be OK?’ It was the rumors and stories they had heard.
“It was ‘they’re going to do this’ ... whoever ‘they’ was,’’ Darr said.
Darr said 10 of 25 students attended class.
On the other side of the building in Jim Wooten’s fourth-grade room, just 5 of 19 showed up. The Friday fear was “big time’’ according to Wooten.
“There was a big buzz,’’ he said.
Diana Liptak, the parent support coordinator at the school, saw the mood swing first thing Friday morning.
“I’m right there at the door most mornings getting hugs and high-fives,’’ Liptak said, “but kids were saying, ‘I’m scared about Monday.’ That’s when I kicked into mom mode. I can understand them being afraid. I told them it’s basically a bully trying to make a threat.
“I refuse to be afraid of a bully.”
Monday was a very quiet day with some rooms housing two or three students.
“The five that were here were OK,’’ Wooten said. “The other ones up to that time were scared with Facebook, the news, parents talking.”
By Tuesday, there was a lone inquiry.
“When they came here, they all wanted to know what they missed,’’ Wooten said. “One thing one kid did say was why would someone do that? Why would they make a threat like that?
It was a question which had no answer at the time and has yet to be answered.
All Wooten tried to do was remind his kids that a threat situation could happen “any time” in their lives. Today, tomorrow or the next day.
He also noted that the school took the opportunity to take a hard look at itself and evaluate it’s preparedness.
Added security measures were taken and other procedures were reviewed and modified.
An Elkhart city police officer checked on each class throughout the day and children were reminded by the teachers that the schools were doing everything they could to guard them from any harm.
Keep in mind, it’s been only four months since the Sandy Hook massacre and earlier this school year, Kristyana Jackson, a Daly student, was shot and killed after a Friday night football game last fall.
Jackson’s memory still weighs heavily on the students and staff at the school.
“I was just at Kristyana’s house the other day (to celebrate her birthday),’’ Darr said, “and we just talked about how you don’t plan for those things. They just happen.”
Liptak said there’s added sense of responsibility teachers share toward students in the wake of such fears.
“We’re a family. You’re balancing wanting to acknowledge it, but not get stuck on it,’’ said Liptak, who indicated that the Daly staff began coordinating its plan during the week prior to the threat. “We want them to express what they’re struggling with, but not let it be a focus.
“We are still getting over a loss of our own to a very violent means. That’s a little (touchy) for us. It’s very raw.’
“Our job was to keep the kids calm, peaceful and focused,’’ Darr said. “We only talked about it if they talked about it and we continued to tell them they were safe.”
Liptak, who has children in ECS, said she fielded dozens of calls from parents who relayed that their kids would not attend on April 15. Other parents wanted to know about safety measures.
The situation hit Liptak as an educator and mother.
“In dinner conversation, I told them I’m a little angry,’’ said Liptak, who told her kids that she wanted them to believe in the schools.
Some parents embraced their belief in school safety. Others believed in their own safe-guarding.
“I want it to be known that I don’t judge those parents,’’ Darr said. “They know their children better than anyone else. They had to make that decision on their own.
“I didn’t feel, coming from discussions, that fear was coming from (children),” Darr said. “In the classroom, when they come in, they feel loved and safe. That’s the way we want our school to be. “It bothered me that the hysteria got that point where children didn’t feel safe at their school.’’
Normalcy returned the very next day following the threat. The teaching staff at Daly hasn’t missed a beat.
“When they came in Tuesday,” Darr said, “everything was safe, everything was OK. It’s been that way ever since.’’