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Schools around US increase security after massacre

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MIAMI (AP) — Schools around the country are reviewing security plans, adding extra law enforcement patrols and readying counselors for the first day of classes since a shooting massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Districts in Florida, Georgia and Alabama are among those asking local law enforcement to increase patrols on Monday. School officials in some areas sent messages to parents addressing security or stressing that they have safety plans that are regularly tested. While some officials refuse to discuss plans in detail, it was clear that vigilance will be high this week at schools around the country.

In the area around Tampa, Hillsborough Co. Sheriff's office spokesman Larry McKinnon said unmarked and marked cars will patrol the schools along with deputies in plain clothes. He wouldn't say how many extra officers will be involved.

The additional patrols will supplement deputies already assigned to every high school and junior high school in the area to ease the fears of parents "who may feel uneasy about sending their children to school." The county's public school system includes around 195,000 students.

The precautions come after a gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday and killed 26 people before shooting himself. The dead include 20 children ages 6 and 7.

Several police agencies in Alabama plan to station officers at schools on Monday. That includes the cash-strapped sheriff's department in bankrupt Jefferson County, where officers will remain at all Birmingham-area schools run by the county system until Christmas break.

Authorities did not report any threats toward Alabama schools, but Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Ted Sexton said families were worried. Sexton said he will have deputies at all elementary schools on Monday.

"I have heard the concerns of parents in Tuscaloosa County," Sexton said in a statement.

In Shelby County, just south of Birmingham, education officials said officers will be visible in school buildings throughout the week. Administrators reminded teachers to keep classroom keys with them at all times and notify principals if they saw anyone inside a school building without a visitor sticker.

Aside from their students' physical safety, administrators were also concerned about the psychological toll of the shootings. In Maryland's suburbs outside Washington, Montgomery County Public Schools will have counselors available at each school Monday to support the system's 149,000 students. Chief of Staff Brian Edwards said officials posted advice online from the National Association of School Psychologists on Friday to help parents talk about acts of violence.

"Obviously, this is a very difficult situation that all school communities are dealing with and the entire nation is dealing with," Edwards said, adding that the system doesn't discuss security procedures. "You can't change what occurred, but you try to do the best you can to help families cope."

Drills for emergency preparedness are part of regular school procedures, he said. Each school is equipped with security equipment to monitor who comes into school buildings.

Officials in South Carolina's largest school district sent a note to parents Friday ensuring they have safety plans that are regularly tested for a number of possible events.

Officials refused to details their plans, saying that would threaten the safety of its more than 70,000 students. Just last week, before the school shooting in Connecticut, Greenville County schools Superintendent W. Burke Royster said the school system met with members from every law enforcement agency in the county to review what to do in an emergency, and make sure they can all communicate. The meetings take place frequently, and the next round will likely involve any lessons that can be taken from the latest school shooting.

"While all of us work diligently to prevent this type of tragedy and to prepare an effective response to all manner of possible events, we do so in the hope that our plans will never have to be utilized," Royster wrote in his note.

 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.