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December 19, 2012

Newtown massacre leads to security assessments nationwide

WASHINGTON — For Lisa Betts and her husband, the conversation started Friday at their Silver Spring, Md., home, not long after they heard about the massacre that claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members at a Connecticut school. How safe, they wondered, was the school their two children attend?

They ticked off its safety practices: Doors are locked. There's a buzzer system for visitors. Students practice emergency drills. Video cameras are installed.

"I think it's forced all of us to look at the realities of the world we live in," Betts, the mother of a kindergartner and fourth-grader, said of the rampage in Newtown, Conn.

Across the region and the nation, similar questions about safety have become more urgent as parents find themselves looking at their schools in new ways after one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

As investigators continue to examine what motivated 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza, safety experts agreed that school practices are uneven and that improvements may be needed in many districts.

Still, experts emphasized that preventing a tragedy like Newtown's is far more complex than installing locks or metal detectors.

"Turning our schools into fortresses is not going to solve the problem," said Dewey Cornell, a University of Virginia professor who studies school safety and cautions against solutions too specific to the Connecticut case.

Federal data show that the number of student homicides at schools has dropped.

President Barack Obama had discussions Monday with White House staff, the vice president and cabinet members, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to examine ways the country can respond to the tragedy, an individual with the administration said.

In communities far beyond Connecticut, school leaders sought to reassure parents and students, and police were posted outside many elementary schools.

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