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Schools offer guidance to parents in wake of Connecticut school shootings

Local school officials say there is no easy way to talk to children about tragic events. And they said it can become that much more difficult when the tragedies involve young children.

This weekend, parents in the Tri-Cities and Kaneland, just as parents throughout the country, will be faced with just such a task, explaining to their children the mass murder of children and educators in a Connecticut kindergarten classroom.

The killings, according to police, were the actions of a lone gunman. Police said the killer may have targeted his mother, who is believed to have taught the kindergarten class assaulted Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The rampage resulted in the deaths of 20 young students and six school staff members. The killer also was found dead in the classroom, police said.

Local school officials said the event has shaken all who work in education.

"As President Obama said, this is going to be a national tragedy," said Jack Barshinger, superintendent at Batavia School District 101.

Barshinger and Jeff Schuler, superintendent at Kaneland School District 302, said, as news of the killings broke, they worked through the day with officials from Geneva School District 304 to prepare an email to send to families of district students to offer some guidance on how to talk about the events with their children.

The email advised parents to limit media exposure, ask children what they already know about the incident, gently correct inaccurate information, encourage children to ask questions, answer their questions directly and be patient.

"When it comes to conversations about a tragic event, such as this, we believe it's something best handled by parents," Schuler said.

That sentiment was shared by officials at St. Charles School District 303. There, district spokesman Jim Blaney said school officials operated normally Friday, allowing students to learn of the events in time.

Blaney said older students likely knew more about what had happened because many of them have mobile devices.

"When it comes to current events, unless it has a direct impact on kids in the classroom, we rely on parents to communicate with their students," he said. "... We maintained our normal instructional day. There's no reason to go away from that today."

Representatives of District 304 did not return messages left Friday.

But officials from St. Charles, Batavia and Kaneland said schools received numerous calls from parents, asking questions about safety procedures at the school. Some parents also asked how the news was being shared with students.

The administrators said school counselors had not yet received many requests from students to talk through Friday's news. But they said counselors and other school officials are prepared, should students or parents request assistance in helping students cope with and process the tragedy.

Barshinger noted that, as the events occurred on a Friday, students will have two days away from school to absorb imagery and information about the killings.

"This is going to be difficult," Barshinger said.

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