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Schools in the Washington area are dispatching counselors and some extra police patrols as students return to class following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Fairfax County police has increased patrols and visibility this week around all schools in the Fairfax County school district. Superintendent Jack Dale says the move is not a response to any threat, but rather a police initiative to enhance safety and alleviate anxiety. Fairfax County is the largest school system in the Washington area with 181,000 students.
Outside Bailey's Elementary School in Bailey's Crossroads this morning, police spokesperson Eddie Azcarate said that even though there is no known threat, the simple presence of the officers may comfort people.
"We are covering publica and private schools, focusing on elementary schools, and just being present, in uniform, visible," Azcarate said. "We want the community to know that we are here and we want everyone to be safe."
Just the presence of officers can be a deterrent to crime, he added.
Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent Joshua Starr says they have counselors available today to support the county's 149,000 students. In addition, school principals are taking time to make sure children are dealing with the tragedy as best as they can.
"The entire society grieves and is traumatized by such an event," says psychiatric counselor Kathy Richardson. "How could our society not protect our children?"
Prince George's County schools held a moment of silence at this morning and there will be increased security at the schools all week. Authorities in the District and Loudoun County are also increasing patrols around elementary schools.
"It's important to get your child back to school, it's important not to let them stay home, and to do what you can do to get them there back in the classroom and to demonstrate to them that school is a safe place," Richardson says.
Richardson also advises that parents make teachers aware of a child s anxiety so that student can receive extra support.