‘As normal as possible’: Destin schools, parents grapple with Newtown shooting

Mladen Rudman
The colorful sand mandala created by the art teacher and teachers and students at Destin Elementary School.

The mass-murder shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Conn., has the country mourning and Okaloosa County schools watchful.

Parent Teacher Organization Co-president Chintana Boswell has a fourth grader at Destin Elementary School.

Boswell and her husband helped their 9-year-old son Dalton cope with the Dec. 14 shooting by maintaining the family’s normal school-time routine and answering questions.

Dalton wanted to know what happened and how it happened.

“He was just very curious about why somebody would do that,” said Boswell.

The couple allowed their son to watch TV coverage of the crime, but only after previewing footage that was digitally recorded.

Dalton wasn’t worried for himself about going to school, added his mother.

“He was just more concerned about the babies, you know, the kindergartners,” said Boswell. “I think that he thinks bigger kids know what to do.”

The parents and Dalton talked about taking cover, staying quiet, and not being in the way. The mother and father stressed that school was safe.

Destin Elementary Principal Marti Gardner also planned for the first day of school after the shooting. She responded to emailed questions from The Log.

The day started with a brief staff meeting, according to the principal.

“Keeping in mind age appropriateness, I encouraged staff members to address student questions or concerns,” she said. “Any child (or adult) needing additional support was to be sent to the office so I or Kay Green, guidance counselor, could reassure them of their safety.”

Gardner added that she hoped parents are shielding the younger children from this horrific event.

She also stressed that safety is a priority at Destin Elementary.

“The sheriff’s department and the district office have a copy of our Crisis Plan,” said the principal. “In the event of an emergency, all staff members and emergency personnel know what to do.”

The plan is reviewed regularly and drills practiced. According to Gardner, every drill is analyzed for weaknesses so that corrective action can be implemented.

Finally, the school resource officer at Destin Middle School was available if needed at the elementary school.

Maintaining the school-day routine also was important for Okaloosa County School District officials.

“We want everything to be as normal as possible,” said Deputy School Superintendent Kaye McKinley.

She said the School District sent an all-call to parents on the day of the shooting, stressing that school safety was vital.

Calls came the other way, too.

“We have had parents call,” said the deputy superintendent. “People just want their kids to feel safe.”

An unspecified number of moms and dads decided to keep their children at home Dec. 17, while others, including military personnel, called to offer suggestions for bolstering school security.

McKinley appreciated their efforts, noting that local lawmen and the Florida Department of Education contribute to the district’s safety plans.

Okaloosa schools have, and periodically practice, fire, storm, and intruder drills.

District-wide, school administrators, staff, and teachers were told to expect concerned parents and students and stay alert.

“We just reminded the schools to keep their vigilance, as they always do,” said McKinley.


Destin Mayor Sam Seevers, deeply affected by the shooting in Newtown, has sent a letter of condolence and hope to the president of the township where Sandy Hook Elementary School is located.

“It came from the heart,” said the mayor about the letter. “I don’t want any attention drawn to me. I cannot even fathom what they’re going through.”

Seevers added the letter, which she sent as the mayor on behalf of the city, was mailed Monday morning.

In part, the letter said: “There are simply no words that express the sorrow we all feel for the members of your town and the heartbroken people who reside in it.”