School buses received national attention again today, and for one of the worst possible reasons: the murder of 20 school children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., an incident that is being reported as the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history.
Television and Internet viewers of breaking news saw horrified parents and students being interviewed by countless news organizations with school buses staged in the background, apparently for evacuation efforts. Unfortunately, the incident comes just weeks before the release of the January edition of School Transportation News magazine, which features topics related to school bus and school security.
In a press conference from the White House, a visibly shaken President Obama called the shooting a "heinous crime." The alleged shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, was found dead at the scene of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Among those killed were Lanza's mother, who was reportedly a kindergarten teacher at the school.
"We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years, and each time I learn the news I react not as president but as anyone else would, as a parent. There's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the overwhelming grief that I do," Obama added, pausing several times to apparently gather his thoughts and to fight back tears.
The shooting, which killed twice as many as the 1999 Columbine massacre, can be considered the worst such incident at a public primary or secondary school ever. It ranks only behind the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech shooting as the worst school-related shooting in U.S. history, according to news reports. In that incident, 32 were killed and 17 were wounded.
Meanwhile, the website for Newtown Public Schools redirected to the following statement at this writing:
"Due to an extremely high service demand as a result of the events that have occured today, this website is temporarily being redirected to this page rather than the school system's usual home page. To help deal with the events of today, there will be a memorial mass this evening at 7:00pm at St. Rose Church. More information will be provided as it becomes available."
Later in the day, the district added a message that counseling services would be offered Friday evening at the Reed Intermediate School Gymnasium until 9 p.m. local time and again Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Incidentally, earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Attorney General Eric Holder's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence released its final report that made 56 recommendations that highlight the importance of identifying children who are victims or witnesses of violence, and providing support and services to help them heal.
The National PTA also offered its condolences as well as resources to assist children as well as adults to try and recover from tragedies.
"National PTA feels enormous sympathy for the students, families and communities affected by the horrendous tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., today. Our country has experienced far too many of these tragedies, and we all share in the sense of loss and hurt," said National PTA President Betsy Landers in a statement. "School and child safety is one of PTA's core tenets as it is crucial to effective learning. A traumatic event like that of this morning affects the entire community, especially the families and friends of the victims. This can be an emotional time, and it's important for people affected by this tragedy to connect with and support each other."
She added that National PTA offers many online resources to assist students, families, schools and PTAs in coping with school violence.
"National PTA believes the protection of children in all school settings is a fundamental right and has made this the utmost priority for our work and advocacy," Landers added.
As for the aforementioned January edition of STN, articles include a look at tactical response by police to emergencies and necessary partnerships with school districts, including transportation departments. One rural district in Texas even allows school personnel to carry firearms to protect themselves, children and the entire campus because it can take up to 30 minutes for law enforcement and other emergency crews to arrive on scene after a 9-1-1 call.
The edition also features an update from TSA on school bus security. National experts have long opined that a targeting of school children on or using school buses could have a debilitating effect on the nation's psyche, not to mention possible effects on the economy. Today's tragedy in Connecticut again reminds us how the nation can collectively hurt following the senseless loss of any life, but especially the lives of young children as well as teachers and school administrators.
Share with us your thoughts on this tragedy and how schools and transportation departments can assist in protecting students from similar incidents in the future.