With a “heightened awareness” following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Lacey Township School District is revisiting its policies and researching potential preventative measures that can be implemented to enhance safety.
“The day after Sandy Hook, Conn., we mobilized a district team. We met on a Sunday, and we met for hours,” Superintendent Dr. Sandra Brower said at a community forum held on school district safety Tuesday night.
Approximately 35 community members — students, parents, school employees and Board of Education and township officials — attended the meeting that focused on how the school district prepares for threats, what is being done to improve safety and coping with a tragedy.
“School safety involves first and foremost an atmosphere of safety, a climate in which children feel comfortable and happy,” Brower said.
Potential Security Enhancements
School district administration and the Board of Education will be reviewing its policies and procedures as well as developing ways to enhance the safety of the students, Brower said.
“The board of education has very clear policies that outline what our requirements are to make sure that we are doing all that we can to provide the resources to support our schools,” she said.
Moving forward, the administration has discussed with school board members potential threat deterrents, she said.
A resident recommended installing bulletproof glass and metal detectors at each of the schools.
“We have never had any situation that I’m aware of that would help us understand the kind of things that a metal detector would deter,” Brower said. “It’s a fine balance. There’s a balance of how we want to send messages to kids when they come into our schools.”
Metal detectors would make schools safer but would not be conducive to an educational environment, police Capt. David Paprota said.
“Mot often it’s an impractical option to staff and do something with the metal detectors,” he said.
As for bulletproof glass, all buildings and classrooms would have to be outfitted and it’s something to consider, although not necessarily plausible, Brower said.
However, bulletproof glass is an “excellent idea,” Paprota said.
The district is also looking into a locking vestibule in school lobbies, Brower said.
“Nobody wants to hear that there is a financial consideration to the safety of our children… We would want to do anything we can to close the entrance way,” she said.
The district is also in the process of improving its lines of communication. This year, each classroom will be outfitted with phones that can call outside of the district, Brower said.
“We are very, very excited to have that for all of our teachers so every classroom will have a phone that goes out, “she said.
By September, each classroom also will have a protocol flip chart that outlines what to do in each emergency situation, Brower said.
The processes in which school doors are monitored also have changed. Door monitors are asking visitors more questions.
“Doors are closed, and the visitor policy will change,” Brower said.
Administration also is discussing budgeting for buzzers at the middle school and high school, as well.
The question of armed guards has also come up, Brower said in response to a resident’s question.
“Administration and the Board of Education has talked about this now and is committed to providing very strong research and a program development on what that might look like,” Brower said.
Some districts are looking at school resource officers, security guards and outsourcing, she said. The Lacey Township School District is researching all of those options.
Direct deterrent is something Joseph Bogdany of Lacey Township taught his officers as a former detective.
“That is something I would really ask of you to consider,” Bogdany, a father of three, said. “A direct deterrent is something I definitely believe in. It’s something that should echo in everybody’s ears. In these times, there’s going to be an action, and we have to do nothing but be prepared to react.”
Safe Schools Plan
There are four components to the district’s Safe Schools Plan: prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.
The district performs risk vulnerability and safety audits regularly in conjunction with law enforcement, Brower said.
The school district’s crisis teams run security drills throughout the schools, Brower said.
The type of drills vary depending on the potential threat such as evacuation (non-fire emergencies), fire drills, weather-related, security (internal and external threats) and parent pick up plans, Cedar Creek Principal Jackie Ranuska said.
Security drills are performed monthly.
“They know what to do, and they’re comfortable doing it. That’s an important message that all parents should have. That the kids respond and they respond appropriately,” she said.
School security is frequently discussed at staff meetings, she said.
“It’s a heightened awareness, and all schools are vigilant about that,” she said. “The administrators are caring about all of your kids. We have buildings full of your children.”
Police officers also frequently visit each of the schools, Paprota said.
The response time for the Safe Schools Plan is “very time limited,” Brower said, for example, a nurse responding to a classroom situation or the response from a police department.
The district is identifying a command post that will be used no matter what the emergency might be, she aid.
“Our best response will be a well-trained, highly alert staff and student body,” Brower said.
The final component of the Safe Schools Plan is recovery. There are three goals, Brower said: to restore the emotional and physical safety of the school community, to return to normal routines of learning and to foster coping skills and promote resilience.
The Seven C’s of Resilience ingrains in children “the bounce back phenomenon,” Director of Special Services Michael Maschi said, teaching children how to recover and cope in different circumstances.
The seven c’s include competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control. More information can be found by clicking here. The district also purchased books for families.
Kara Viscito, mother of three, left the forum a little less uneasy, although still concerned.
“It still leaves open questions,” she said. “There have been changes with entering the schools so we’ve already seen changes taking place. I’m glad they’re on top of things.”