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Superintendent Outlines Security Situation in Vernon Schools

She said many things are in place, but hinted at some improvements as well.

In an intense presentation to the  Board of Education on Monday, Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway outlined the state of security regarding the town's educational facilities.

Conway was quick to say that safety has been a priority for her administration since she came to the top schools post in her town of residence two-and-a-half years ago. But since the Newtown school shootings - exactly a month ago - nothing can be overlooked, she said.

"The events over the past month have made us think some more about school safety," she said. "We are working to ensure all our kids are safe."

Flanked by Police Chief James Kenny and Fire Marshal Ray Walker, Conway broke down her overview into four categories: training, facilities, threat assessment and a safe school climate.

In terms of training, Conway said that since 1999, after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, schools across the country have been practicing both "soft" and "hard" lockdown drills to prepare for possible intruders, specifically what Kenny calls "active shooter situations."

She has mandated that a hard lockdown drill will take place at each school once per month.

She said responses to fire drills are "automatic" and she wants to be able to say the same about lockdown drills.

Floor plan outlines, maps of schools and keys to each school are in each police car, she said. 

She said staff members are training to be strict on visitors entering the buildings but welcoming at the same time.

Conway pulled no punches when discussing facilities. Doors are now required to be locked and all main entrances must be secure. That means designs and a cost analysis are being formulated to limit direct access to the hallways in three of the seven schools in town that, in the words of Michael Purcaro, the town's emergency management director and director of business and finance for the school system calls an "airlock."

Conway said no vestibule area should provide direct access to a school. She did not name the three schools specifically on Monday, but since the Newtown shootings town officials have mentioned them as being Northeast School, Rockville High School and Skinner Road School.

Other facility matters Conway mentioned were:

• The rear drop-off area at Vernon Center Middle School will be staffed using a flex schedule.

• Visitors must not only use the buzzer system to check in, but they must show identification and obtain a visitor's pass upon entry. Even then, an escort might be required inside a building.

• All schools have a new radio system that can be used to contact staff members systemwide.

• Cameras are at all main entryways. Tech experts are working on getting the cameras connected to public safety dispatchers.

• ID badges among staff members have been standardized.

• An extra security guard is being asked for at RHS s part of the 2013-14 budget proposal.

• Police officers trained in Homeland Security matters will be touring each school beginning this week to compile a "vulnerability assessment."

• Schools should have greeters.

Facilities assessments will be compiled after the police tours of the buildings and any physical improvement will be compiled into one capital outlay project, school officials have said.

Regarding threat assessment, Conway said she would entertain the idea of a committee that can study the protocols on when the staff can intervene during an incident and when the police must be called.

Conway said a safe school climate is about "fostering a culture of respect," and added that "is a two-way street involving booth stunts and staff."

She said goals are to prevent bullying, use proactive strategies, built trustee relationships in which one adult in each building cam be trusted by each student and ignoring the "code of silence" when a peer does something that promotes an unsafe climate.

Sarah Summers January 15, 2013 at 12:51 PM
I have serious concerns about the pick up situation at Lake St school. The gym door is left wide open for anyone to walk in, and id is rarely checked. I have not been to pick up in a few weeks so I'm hoping this has changed. Can anyone tell me if it has been improved?
Nancy Krupienski January 15, 2013 at 03:28 PM
I'm really not sure how I feel about classroom doors being locked. Yes, it is an added layer to someone trying to get in, but I don't want my kids to feel like they are in prison, and I hope it doesn't disrupt learning because people have to stop to keep letting people back into the classroom. I am glad they are really taking the time to research this and see what measures are needed before reacting too quickly.
Sue January 15, 2013 at 03:45 PM
As far as classroom doors being locked, it was explained that the classroom doors are not required to be closed during the school day, just locked. If there was a situation, the teacher could quickly close the door and everyone would be safely locked in without having to fumble around with keys. Many classrooms have the door mostly closed, but not latched so that students don't have to knock everytime they come and go. It sounds like there is an approach of common sense and research going into the security which is great to see!!!
Rose Marie January 15, 2013 at 05:34 PM
Sarah - The pick up process at lake street is still the same. The only update is that they ask parents to stay in the gym room and not go into the hallways. Honestly, I have not seen many "new" security measures at lake street (unless I am missing something)
Danno January 15, 2013 at 06:55 PM
This might be something you want to address directly with the school. It seems you have a concern but.......... have you taken the steps on your part to ensure that your concern is made aware??
Betty January 17, 2013 at 01:25 AM
I am a parent of two children and, yes, I worry about them. We have to face reality - every time one enters a public place there is a risk. If it is a place were we allow people to enter and exit during the day - there is a risk. If you have a safety suggestion for a school let them know!! If you are really concerned like the parent at the Monday night board meeting, then you need to take a look at yourself. Are you making your child feel unsafe because of your concerns? You can't live in fear - teach your children to make good choices and to be aware of their surrounding. If you are like that parent who says she is afraid of leaving her kids at school then you should homeschool your children. Healthy parenting doesn't involve teaching your children to fear life.

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