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Stephens Co. Sheriff's Dept. Pushing for Safer Schools

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STEPHENS CO., Okla_ In light of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings where 26 people, including children were gunned down, the Stephens County Sheriff's Department and rural schools have teamed up in hopes of preventing a tragedy like that one from happening within their walls.

Monday, teachers and faculty at Central High met with deputies to learn how an instance like that can be avoided, or at least minimized.

Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney said the most important thing to recognize is that the Newtown tragedy can happen anywhere, at any time, even in rural areas. He said it's a tough reality to swallow, but it's something that must be dealt with.

Preparing for a tragedy like this one inside one of his school's walls is something McKinney said he never thought he'd have to prepare for.

"When I was going to school, we had gun in our cars," McKinney said, "Because we would go hunting. We had our shot guns in our cars. We'd go hunting after school in the afternoon. It never crossed our minds to use that weapon against our fellow students or our teachers."

Times have changed, and that's something his deputies are teaching teachers and Central High Superintendent Bennie Newton to prepare for. Newton said his school already has a plan in place, but they are always looking to make improvements.

"The drill that we have code names for, the staff is aware of the code," Newton said. "They know the codes to call off and let everyone know everything is safe and back to normal."

McKinney said as the times change, plans should reflect that. That's why his deputies are encouraging teachers to think outside of the box when faced with an emergency.

"If you've got your children outside, and we've got an active shooter in the school, you wouldn't want to bring those kids back in the school," McKinney said. "You may want to hit the woods and get away from the school, instead of bringing them in according to policy and locking the school and yard down. A lot of times, that's not the best plan."

Despite 26 people being gunned down in Newtown, McKinney said it could have been worse, had the school not had a plan in place. He said no plan is too great, and that preparing for the worst is necessary.

"We're learning now that the potential was there for it to be a lot worse," McKinney said. "The people that commit these acts, the people with media coverage want to make their self better by higher body count." 

Newton said being a rural school has its pros and cons if it were to become the target of a shooting. He said while they are in an isolated area a good distance from the law, the community is so close knit, passersby don't hesitate to report something out of the ordinary.

One of the things teachers learned to look for was signs of a disturbed student. Those signs could be drawings of death and destruction or writings of death and suppressed anger.

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