School officials try to maintain routine in the shadow of war

Local school officials plan to hold class discussion on the war in Iraq to a minimum and keep the students’ days as normal as possible.

Students who express concern or have questions about the war will be sent to counselors, psychologists or administrators, according to school officials in Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park.

Teachers are advised to continue their routines and be good listeners, said Clarice Torian, director of student services for Prince William County.

“Just be aware of any special needs or concerns that the students might have,” Torian advises teachers. “Teachers refer students to the counselor often when there are situations the students are anxious about.”

School administrators have been given information on handling concerns students may have, Torian said.

“None of this is a new approach. Schools have been provided crisis services for a long time,” Torian said.

School officials have been receiving updates from local police throughout the day, said Ron Crowe, an investigator with Prince William school division’s department of risk management and security.

School administrators and staff are reviewing contingency plan policies — procedures that have been in place for years. Television and radio broadcasts in the schools are also being monitored by teachers and administrators, Crowe said.

“We tightened our security,” said Betty Covington, Dumfries Elementary School principal, noting items such as flashlights, cereal bars and blankets are also stocked at the school.

“We’re not talking about the war,” Covington said. “We’re trying to have normal instruction as much as possible.”

Teachers have been asked not to have the television on during class, Covington said.

The imagery on television news about the war will bother the children, said Patricia Miller, Manassas Park Elementary School principal.

Parents are encouraged to limit students’ television viewing — especially the news. Parents should also encourage children to communicate their feelings. Students should stay on a normal daily routine, advised Kelly Clucas, Manassas Park elementary school’s guidance counselor.

“That daily routine is really crucial [in] having kids feel safe,” Clucas said.

However, Manassas Park’s fourth- and fifth-graders were more concerned about not going outside for recess because it rained Thursday, Miller said.

By Monday, more students may be anxious, Clucas said.

In Manassas, teachers are encouraged to offer as much support as possible to students. If students have questions, teachers should answer and then move on with instruction.

Students who were walking home from Osbourn High School in Manassas on Thursday said the war was not a topic for discussion in some of their classes.

“A lot of teachers won’t talk to us about it,” said Christine Greil, a ninth-grader. “It causes arguments in the classroom.”

However, the possibility of war with Iraq was discussed for about a half hour in her history class Wednesday, Greil said.

“It seems like a lot of people don’t really care what’s going on,” said Niakita Fincham, another Osbourn ninth-grader. Fincham said war in Iraq was discussed in her English class.

“I think it’s scary,” Greil said, noting she has three family members serving overseas.

“I personally think it affects the kids more than the adults,” Fincham said.

Greil said adults should talk about the war with students and about five minutes in class should be slated for students to discuss their concerns about the war.

“If you talk about it then you’ll calm the kids down.” Greil said.

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