Sunday, December 8, 2013
WATERVILLE -- How do we best keep children and staff safe in schools?
Is there a model policy for ensuring their safety?
Do we want administrators carrying concealed weapons?
Should front doors of all schools be kept locked?
Those were some of the questions the Board of Education grappled with Monday night during its first discussion about school safety following the Sandy Hook shooting last month in Connecticut.
School Superintendent Eric Haley said it is a difficult discussion to have. He and others agreed that while a district may think it has a model security policy, if someone is bent on doing harm in a school, the best that can be done is to slow that person down.
Amy Willette, the parent of a child at George J. Mitchell School, said that means locking the front door of schools.
"They do a wonderful job with security," Willette said of staff at the Mitchell School. "They have practice lockdowns."
But she said she is not comfortable with having the front door unlocked.
"Our schools are too open," Willette said. "We've got to have those front doors locked. I feel strongly."
School principals Monday reported on safety practices at their schools, with most saying all the school doors are locked, except the front doors.
School visitors must check in and out and wear name tags, according to the administrators.
Some of the schools have buzzers to notify office staff of visitors, some schools lock the cafeteria, where the most people congregate at any one time.
Mitchell School Principal Allen Martin, for instance, said that since the Connecticut shooting, the gymnasium and cafeteria at his school are kept locked.
The schools also conduct lockdown and evacuation drills.
Haley acknowledged that when a school has cameras or buzzers, someone has to be monitoring them.
"How much time do they have to sit and monitor a camera?" he asked.
He said that during a school incident, police want to get to the scene as fast as they can, and they want school staff to protect the children for as long as they possibly can.
Haley said School Resource Officer Alan Main brought police officers into the schools over Christmas vacation to tour the schools, know the layout, get keys and discuss safety issues.
Haley said there are some things schools can do that will help emergency crews, including posting room numbers on the outside of the buildings so that police may access them quickly.
"The same thing with exits," he said.
Board member Joan Phillips-Sandy said she understood the concerns about locked front doors but she did not know if it is feasible at the high school, where students, parents and staff are coming and going all day long. She wondered aloud if a system of having identification cards to get in and out of the building would be appropriate.
Bard member Maryanne Bernier agreed with Willette.
"I do believe that locked doors do slow them down," she said.
Haley said administrators will continue to discuss ideas and take recommendations regarding school safety.
"We certainly will take your thoughts and come back with some ideas," he said.
Board chairman Lee Cabana agreed.
"I'm sure we'll revisit this officially again, shortly."
In other matters, Cabana who has been chairman 16 years, was re-elected chairman in a unanimous vote. Sara Sylvester was re-elected executive secretary, also unanimously.
Adult Education Director Susan Tuthill presented a budget draft for her department, saying the general educational development process as schools know it will end in December, because a for-profit company plans to buy the rights to GED. Students older than 18 take the test for eligibility to receive a high school diploma.
"Anybody who has started on the GED process will lose everything," she said. "We're all terribly upset about it throughout the state."
Amy Calder -- 861-9247