York County school superintendents and administrators felt both overcome with emotion and a renewed sense of commitment to school security following Friday's Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.

"We always have to be very cautious of not having the mentality of 'It could never happen to us' ... it could happen to any one of us," said Eastern York School District Superintendent Darla Pianowski.

Northeastern School District Superintendent Jody Nace said she, like superintendents throughout the county, made sure to send a letter to parents reassuring them of district safety protocols.

But there's still the human element, of hearing about elementary school children being murdered.

"I spent a lot of the weekend crying," Nace said.

She said she also spent part of the weekend thinking of what she and Northeastern officials would do if faced with the same perilous situation.

Superintendents around the county each said they feel confident their districts are following all necessary safety procedures and are as prepared as they can be. Many of them spent the past few days reviewing their emergency plans, though none said they plan to make any immediate changes in response to Sandy Hook

All the districts at the elementary level lock their doors throughout the school day and funnel visitors through a main office, where they are to sign in and explain the purpose of their visits. Most districts also have buzz-in procedures so that visitors must press a button before an office assistant allows them into the building.


Southernonly has buzz-in doors at Friendship Elementary, which just underwent construction, but officials already had been planning to add such doors before Friday's shootings, said Superintendent Thomas Hensley.

Cameras to watch incoming visitors also are standard at elementary schools countywide, as are "intruder drills" in which local law enforcement conduct exercises with teachers and staff about what to do if a gunman or other unauthorized intruders came into the school.

"Hopefully we never have to use them," Hensley said.

Hensley and Dallastown Superintendent Ron Dyer said they have other security measures in place but did not want to speak about them publicly to avoid compromising their systems.

Some districts used Sandy Hook to spur additional conversations with police and their security staff about their protocol. Eastern gave additional copies of its emergency procedures to all first responders in the area, Pianowski said; emergency officials there have blueprints of the schools, too.

Many school districts, including Central York, said they also have crisis response teams that receive additional training.

Is it all enough? There's no way to tell if it's enough, district officials said, pointing out that Sandy Hook seemed to have proper procedures. Preventing violence is the best districts can do.

Parents seemed to be confident enough to keep students in school on Monday, as attendance in the York area didn't seem to be affected, school officials said.

Students seemed relatively unfazed at South Western School District, said Superintendent Barbara Rupp. Everything was "business as usual," she said.

Some students' parents called South Western, which holds monthly intruder drills and locks classroom doors, to ask for safety reassurances, Rupp said.

"It feels so good that at least our kids feel secure," Rupp said.

She said she feels confident that any of her teachers or staff would step in harm's way for a student, which was exactly what happened in the deaths of several Sandy Hook teachers and its principal. But Rupp said she whether national or state laws will come down demanding even more security procedures as a knee-jerk reaction. That might not be the answer, Rupp said.

"We have to look at the root cause," of school shootings, she said. "There needs to be a conversation at a different level."

Can't protect emotionally: Friday's events hit close to home for Red Lion's director of buildings and grounds, Jeff Bryan. Bryan was working at Red Lion during two of its own tragedies. 

In 2001, a machete-wielding intruder, William Stankiewicz, injured principal Norina Bentzel, two teachers and 11 kindergarten pupils at North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School.

In 2003, middle school principal Eugene Segro was shot and killed by eighth-grader James Sheets.

Bryan said Red Lion is following all the top safety protocols, from cameras to buzz-in doors to a school resource officer, and he feels confident Red Lion is protecting its students' safety.

But he is all too aware that "none of us are immune" to acts of violence.

"My heart bleeds. It doesn't give you a good feeling," Bryan said of watching the Sandy Hook tragedy unfold.

He said Sandy Hook victims' classmates and families always will feel the pain of their loss. Red Lion had emotional support staff on hand Monday in case students had trouble dealing with the news.

There's no way to shield people completely from the psychological toll of the violence, especially when they've been through what the Red Lion community has faced.

"It never ends. Our support has never stopped," Bryan said. "It's very painful to think of."

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com