PITTSBURGH (NewsRadio1020 KDKA) – Mary Catherine Reljac, Assistant Superintendent of the Franklin Regional School District, spoke exclusively with Bill Rehkopf for the first time since the stabbing.
She sat down for a two-part interview on the KDKA Afternoon News, detailing the events last Wednesday which left two dozen people injured when a 16-year old allegedly went on a stabbing spree throughout the high school.
Reljac said this is something that no school ever wants to go through and explained her reaction as the events unfolded.
“On Wednesday we really were in shock and we did what we needed to do to protect our students and our staff members and I can’t say that on Wednesday I realized all that was going on, because we were all very busy, but as the day wore on I was so proud of our students and our staff members, our community, our administrative team there was really a sense of community working together,” Reljac said.
As the events were unfolding, students were evacuated to the Middle School, where Reljac established a command post. There students were able to be reunited with their parents safely and in an organized manner, given all the chaos surrounding the school. She says her first concern was the safety of the students and the immensity of the situation hit her hard, but processing it was totally different.
“My major concern was to get the students to their parents in an orderly fashion so that everyone could be reunited and could go home,” she said. “I think it started to really hit me right away how large it was, but I don’t think I have totally processed it — even now.”
Reljac says she felt the reuniting was very organized, thanks to her staff, but the emotion is what made everything chaotic. She credits police with controlling traffic as 2,000 parents showed up to pick up their children and that they were essential to helping the situation.
In the next few days that followed, school officials had to make decisions as to when classes would resume and if the elementary and middle school students return to class the next day or wait until the high school resumes classes. The elementary and middles school schedules went on as usual the next day, while this week they introduce their strategy for reopening the high school.
“As we were looking at our strategy for reopening the high school, we knew that our main concern was to do this with a lot of care for our students and our staff and for our entire community, because we realized that this is an unprecedented event that none of us wanted to be a part of and at the same time we still need to figure out how to move forward and move on,” Reljac said.
Over the weekend, meetings were held with student representatives, staff members, councilors and administrators discussing how they were going to bring students back to the high school. Everyone contributed to the plan on moving forward as a community.
“We wanted to make sure that this was a gentle return to the school,” Reljac said. “In a way, that honored what everyone has been through and honored the personal struggles that we know a lot of people are going to be going through. And today we did allow the faculty to come in, we had a very nice meeting this morning we talked about how we would feel and how we would get through this together and our entire faculty congregated in front of the steps of the high school and we entered that building as an entire group all at the same time because we were going to do that together.”
She said they took cues from parents who said they would like to be there to support their children as they walk into school for the first time since the stabbing. That’s where administrators got the idea to have several hours set aside Tuesday for students to do a “walk through” with their families. Students and their parents will be able to speak with teachers and prepare themselves for going back to a regular school schedule. There will also be counselors and therapy dogs all week long for students who need them.
Tuesday night there will be a “Send Them Back With Love” rally for the community to show their support for the students.
“I was so touched with how much outpouring we had, not only from our community and our school district, but from the entire region and I know that all the emails and all of the signs of support and all the phone calls meant so much to all of us and really have helped to strengthen us through this time,” Reljac said. “And to have our entire community want to get together to send our students back school I think says volumes about this community, about the care that we have for all our students who are in school and so what we are excited about is that our community can be together, that the community is going to be there to support our students and our staff members and we are also just thrilled to be able to kind of celebrate the fact that we are a community and we take strength through each other to move forward in the next few days.”
You can hear the whole two-part interview here below: