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Security Increased At Westchase Schools Following Connecticut Tragedy

Schools in the neighborhood are practicing extra safety precautions this week.

At Mary Bryant Elementary School the morning routine included parents accompanying their students to class on the open campus.

But that's changed since the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn.

Now if parents want to accompany their children to school, they must drop them off at the gate where teachers or staff will direct students to class.

It's just one of the safety measures Bryant Principal Karen Bass decided to enact in light of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The change is permanent, Bass said.

"We have realized that it not only is safer, it really is allows us to get our day started quicker," Bass said about the change to drop off. "We're going to leave it that way."

Even though the shootings occurred more than 1,000 miles from Tampa, Hillsborough County school officials have beefed up safety precautions, instituting a modified lockdown through Friday and adding more police officers to schools. And Hillsborough School Superintendent MaryEllen Elia sent automated phone messages out to staff and to parents on Sunday notifying them of the increased security plans.

Individual schools also put their own plans into action to make parents, staff and children safer.

No lunch visitors are allowed at Mary Bryant this week and students are to be accompanied by staff members when they are walking around the campus.

School psychologists were available on Monday to help out should any students have questions, Bass said.

The planning has paid off.

"It actually has been pretty calm," Bass said. "Parents handled it well and my staff has handled it very well. They have remained very calm."

Over at Westchase Elementary School, Principal Scott Weaver reviewed the schools safety plan, handed out extra copies and gave substitute teachers keys to classroom doors.

He said school staff have not made it a point to talk to students about the tragedies, instead letting parents take the lead on any discussions. A school counselor was available for students who may have had questions.

"I assured them (parents) that I'm not addressing it with our student body," Weaver said. "However, if any child looks upset or wants to speak with someone I do have a school psychologist."

Weaver, who has three children, said he himself had to find a way to explain the tragedy to his youngest daughter who is in the sixth grade.

"We told her there are mean people in the world that try to harm others and that there were a lot of kids that were killed," he said. "But we said our schools are safe, our principals make sure that all the schools are secure and you have great teachers and everything is going to be OK."

Hillsborough County Schools will remain on modified lockdown through Friday. Students go on holiday break starting Monday, Dec. 24.

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