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School safety, children's trauma on parents' minds after OKlahoma tornado


Described as a lawn-mower blade spanning two miles, the monster tornado shredded Moore, OK.

The images unfolded live on television and were streamed on mobile devices. The worst part for parents was knowing at least seven children died in their school, which didn't have a designated shelter. Some children drowned in the school's basement.

Parents now have to worry about their child's safety at their own school while talking to their children about the tragedy.

KCTV5 Chief Meteorologist Chris Suchan knows the weather can be both cool and scary. He regularly speaks to schoolchildren in an effort to inform them and demystify the science of weather.

On Tuesday, he delivered a regularly scheduled address at Gardner Elementary School in Gardner, KS. The timing couldn't have been more appropriate, district officials said.

"Anytime you have this kind of weather, students get anxious, so it's important to have someone come in and explain storm safety, and today's timing was appropriate for that," principal Pam Tate explained.

Tate said after a tragedy like the one in Oklahoma that teachers try to keep things as normal as possible. If children have questions, teachers and administrators answer them honestly, but they leave the big talks for parents. That thought process is exactly what child therapists recommend.

"Say to them, ‘do you have any fears? Do you have any concerns? What have friends told you?,'" said Carol Roeder-Esser, a licensed clinical social worker for Johnson County Mental Health Center.

Roeder-Esser said, as parents, it's important for people to talk to their children and reassure them that they have a safety plan in place to ease any fears the kids might have. One way to help with any anxiety is to monitor what children are watching on television and online.

"Children can be re-traumatized by watching the same thing again and again, so you want to spare them that if you can," she suggested.

Roeder-Esser said people should try to get their children to focus on the positive, like how quickly rescue crews arrived to help.

She also recommends to always watch for signs that children aren't coping.

"I think if you child isn't sleeping well, having nightmares, isn't eating well or withdrawing from friends and activities," Roeder-Esser said.

Click here for tips for talking with and helping children cope after a disaster or traumatic event.

Two elementary schools were in the path of Monday's storm in Oklahoma. The lack of adequate storm shelters and seeing students being pulled from the rubble of their schools has some area parents anxious and wondering how safe their schools are.

KCTV5's Amy Anderson contacted numerous Kansas City area school districts to find out their safety protocol in the case of a tornado. Most didn't respond.

The Blue Valley School District provided a tour of Stanley Elementary School. Tornado safety rooms and procedures are crucial, district officials said.

In an emergency, Stanley Elementary's 400-plus students go underground to the cafeteria that also doubles as a FEMA-approved tornado shelter. There, students have plenty of room to spread out in an area that keeps them well-protected from any storm.

While Gardner Elementary got a visit from Suchan for a refresher course in tornado safety, the school's principal said she's confident in their tornado shelter and plans.

"We are lucky to have a basement in our building, which will house all of our students and we can get over 400 students downstairs quickly in an emergency such as this so we feel pretty safe at Gardner Elementary," Tate said.

In Lee's Summit, MO, students go into basements and FEMA-approved safe rooms and the same thing goes for the Kansas City School District. Shawnee Mission Schools have some underground shelters, while other schools have designated storm refuge areas that include interior restrooms, corridors, classrooms or other spaces that have little or no windows.

In the North Kansas City School District, some schools have basements while some students are still forced to seek refuge in a hallway.

Many parents said they'd just prefer to go get their kids during extreme weather, however most schools discourage or flat out prohibit it during a warning. Some schools, like Stanley, ask arriving parents to join the others in the basement.

Some fear parents were injured in their quest to get their children from their schools Monday afternoon.

What do you think? Share your thoughts on KCTV5's Facebook page. Click here.

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