Dear Families,

As we return from our breaks the memories and images of the tragic shooting in Florida continue to be present in the news and on many of our minds.  It reminds us all of how precious life is and the challenging times we live in. Together with all Americans, we mourn the students and staff who lost their lives in this senseless shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  As parents and as educators, we also struggle to help our children and students understand how such tragedies can happen at a school, which should be a haven of safety.

Safety Protocols

As we have shared before, we place the safety of our students and staff as our highest priority and the events in Florida have only fortified our resolve to make sure our schools are safe. As a district, we follow the Big Five Emergency Protocols and conduct drills regularly. Please know we continue to revisit these processes and want everyone in our schools to know what to do, if and when, an emergency occurs.

Supporting Students

We are fully aware of the role that trauma plays in a child’s development. As a district, we have expanded our counseling, mental health and nursing care services over the past few years to support the social and emotional well-being for all students district wide.  In addition, we participate in our county’s school-based Mental Health Collaborative and maintain strong communications and partnerships with our local law enforcement. Further, our district staff has also participated in the county-wide Student Threat Assessment training as part of the Coalition for Safe Schools and Communities, in order to implement protocols for early intervention and support of students who may demonstrate threatening behavior.

Student Walkouts

I have met with our leadership team to discuss how we can support our staff and communities during these trying times to create safe and nurturing environments for our youth to learn within. We also want to balance our students right to freely express their thoughts and opinions in a safe space. Along these lines, many of you may have heard of the widely advertised upcoming marches and “walkouts” planned for March 14th, March 24th and April 20th. As some of you may not be as familiar with these planned protests, I have summarized them below along with our district’s response to each event.  Please note that these protests do not represent all of the events that may be scheduled in our community nor does this communication represent any affiliation with the groups sponsoring the events listed below.

March 14th Enough: National School Walkout. Organizers are encouraging teachers, students, administrators, and others to walk out of class for 17 minutes (one minute for each person killed at the Douglas High School) beginning at 10:00 a.m.

District Response:  We are working with our site principals to create plans for students during the school day based on the developmental needs of our children.  Given this initiative was launched by the youth of Douglas High School, we are engaging our students to take an active role in the development of such “choice” activities.  As part of our 5C’s/Habits of Mind work, we encourage children to take ownership of their learning and this seems to be a natural fit for student voice and choice. That said, all activities sanctioned by the district will occur on the school campus for staff and students only.

March 24th March for Our Lives protest in Washington DC and other cities, including San Francisco and San Jose. Additional protests might be held in San Mateo County. “March for Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country…”

District Response:  Since March 24th is a Saturday, we will not be organizing any school events for that day.

April 20th – National High School Walk-Out for Anti-Gun Violence. Student-organized walkout commemorating the 19th anniversary of the Columbine campus shooting.

District Response:  As for April 20th, this event is focused as a “high school” walk out. As such, we expect students to attend and remain in school, however we will continue to plan with students if they wish to organize special activities during lunch or hold an assembly.

These national events were designed to give students, teachers, and others the chance to express their frustration with the senseless gun violence that has already plagued many schools and to take action to bring about change. We support our students’ desire to make a positive difference in the world, but we also want to make sure they are safe. As such, we will do what we can to give them opportunities on campus to talk and learn about these issues and explore ways in which they can make a difference.

Since our top concern is student safety, we expect students to remain on campus. However, we cannot prevent them from leaving, and should they decide to leave, we will not be able to ensure their safety. As such, if you choose to have your child participate in an off-site event, you must sign out your child, and in turn, assume responsibility for their safety during the school day.  Local law enforcement will likely be taxed that day and may lack the resources to supervise a large number of marches simultaneously or to be be responsive to missing students with the competing demands. Therefore, we highly encourage our students to remain on campus and to participate in our on-campus events for their own safety.

You can expect a future communication with more specifics on the walkouts/planned protests/school events in this regard by March 9th with specifics related to your site and students.

Student Needs

Finally, as we know, during difficult times, it is important to be sensitive to the thoughts and feelings our children (and staff) may be experiencing. Different age groups require different approaches. Previously, we shared with school principals information providing tips and guidance about how to talk about these types of tragedies. However, as this continues to be front and center in the media, on social media and in conversations throughout the day, I am including below links to resources which I hope are helpful as we work to support our students’ response to this tragedy.  We understand that each of us deals with tragedy and grief in our own way and on our own timeline. We have support and services available for those that need them. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your school principal or school counselor if you have any concerns for your child.

Again, thank you for your partnership as we work through this together and please look for additional information from your school principal next week as plans become more solidified.


Mary Jude Doerpinghaus

Interim Superintendent


Where to Find Help for Your Child:

Tips for Talking to Your Child About Violence:

SMCOE:  Parents and School Safety:

SMCOE:  BIg 5 School Emergency Guidelines

Big Five Immediate Action Responses:

Safe and Sound Schools:

Brief Facts and Tips for Addressing Grief: