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OVERLAND PARK, KS (KCTV) -
The horrible tragedy in Newtown, CT, no doubt, has parents around the Kansas City metro talking about school safety and puts current school security under the microscope.
In nearly every school district in the Kansas City area, visitors must be let in and identified. School doors are secured, but so was the school in Connecticut, leaving many asking if there is a way to be even safer.
"Any time a major event occurs around the country we review our own plans - is there something we've missed here that we should look at in the process as well," said Superintendent of Independence Schools Dr. Jim Hinson.
Columbine's 1999 mass school shooting changed safety measures in schools nationwide, adding evacuation plans, key-coded entries and police training at schools.
Friday's deadly shooting, the first in an elementary school, might do the same.
Hinson said currently visitors must be let in to a school.
"That's a good question. We have ongoing meetings with law enforcement, looking at safety measures, trying to determine if there's anything we should be doing that we are not doing," he said when asked if there are any more ways they can make schools safer than they are now.
In Overland Park police said even though there was no threat, the chief of police stepped up patrols around schools.
"We've had no credible threats. But we still want to have some visibility around the schools to kind of put people at ease that we are there and watching out for their children," Officer Gary Mason with the Overland Park Police Department said.
Schools Friday have added intruder drills or active shooter drills to the list of fire and tornado safety drills, preparing them for the unthinkable like a gunman on school grounds.
"For kids' safety sometimes we have to prepare them for unfortunate experiences," Hinson said. "I really worry about what kids are exposed to today, what they see across the globe. The violence that they see is unfortunate."
Hickman Mills, Liberty and Grandview school districts all said they practice safety drills of this nature and everyone who visits the schools must be buzzed in and identified.
As the news unfolds of the mass school shooting, many are wondering how to talk to their children about this type of tragedy.
Child psychologist with the University of Kansas Medical Center Dr. Stephen Lassen said each child is going to react differently to different levels of information, so it comes down to each individual parent's discretion.
Parents should assume that their kids have heard about, at least on some level, what happened Friday, so they are advised not to dodge the issue and be proactive with having a conversation.
Parents should take some time to determine what they want to say before initiating the conversation.
Lassen said the most important thing a parent can do is reassure them that they are safe because it's very natural for kids to start wondering if something like this could happen at their school.
Next, the psychologist said parents should try to limit children's exposure to the video and images that are being shown out of Newtown, CT. Parents should be honest about what happened, but not let their children sit in front of the television or computer taking it all in and watching the same horrific images over and over.
The age of parent's children is very important. Most parents know to console and reassure younger kids, but they shouldn't forget about older children as well. Experts said, in some cases, older children can face an even greater risk.
"Talk to older kids at a different level than younger kids. But that's a double-edged sword too because older kids are more able to understand the gravity of what's happened, which can lead to increased fears and problems as well," Lassen said.
Maintaining a normal routine is also important. Lassen said it's OK to let children take a day or two off from school if they are scared, but parents should keep a close eye out for any long-term signs they might have really been affected by the tragedy.
"What you want to look out for is a persistent change in behavior. Who are unable to go back to school due to fears. Disrupted sleep, appetite - those are all signs that there may be something more serious going on with the kids and they really do need to talk with a mental health professional," he said.
He reminds parents that they know their kids best, so they should use their best discretion.
The Park Hill School District sent home a list of recommendations to their parents, and will offer counseling to students next week.
"Focus on your children over the week following the tragedy. Tell them you love them and everything will be OK," the district advised. "Try to help them understand what has happened, keeping in mind their developmental level."
Hugging and cuddling children more than usual will provide reassurance. Following a normal schedule is also vital with some modifications.
"Spend extra time reading or playing quiet games with your children before bed. Those activities are calming, foster a sense of closeness and security, and reinforce a sense of normalcy," the district suggested. "Spend more time tucking them in. Let them sleep with a light on if they ask for it."
To combat stress, make sure you and your children get the right amount of sleep and exercise while eating healthy meals.
"Consider praying or thinking hopeful thoughts for the victims and their families. It may be a good time to take your children to your place of worship, write a poem or draw a picture to help your children express their feelings and feel that they are somehow supporting the victims and their families," according to Park Hill's recommendations. "Find out what resources your school has in place to help children cope. Most schools are likely to be open and often a good place for children to regain a sense of normalcy. Being with their friends and teachers can help."
Already at least one event is planned in the Kansas City area to remember the victims and their families in Connecticut.
The AdHoc Group Against Crime will hold a prayer vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The vigil will be held at noon on Saturday at the AdHoc office, located at 3116 Prospect Ave., in Kansas City, MO.
KCTV5's DeAnn Smith contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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