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Weston Police Commission discusses recent high school lockdown

SCH-high-schoolThe Weston Police Commission got a debriefing at its March 5 meeting from police Chief John Troxell and school Superintendent Colleen Palmer about a recent high school lockdown and evacuation.

Chief Troxell said the incident began around 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27, when a threatening note was found at Weston High School. The note did not list specific names.

Police spent an hour investigating a juvenile “person of interest.” When nothing came of that investigation, police made the decision to put the school into lockdown. The decision was then made to evacuate the school.

Police brought in mutual aid from other area departments to assist with the evacuation and escort students to the middle school and intermediate school. The State Police were called in with gunpowder-sniffing dogs to do a sweep of the school.

Since the Sandy Hook school tragedy, the Police Department takes threats like these very seriously, Chief Troxell said.

He admitted there were “some issues” with the lockdown and evacuation procedures.

There were traffic problems, he said, because parents drove to the school and clogged School Road. Buses had trouble getting to the middle school and intermediate school to pick up students.

Another problem was the failure to evacuate some classrooms after the lockdown. Some classrooms did not hear the evacuation announcement over the intercom. In addition, several classrooms were overlooked because some police officers and security staff were not totally familiar with the building, the chief said. “Overall, some things went perfectly, but there is always room for improvement,” he said.

‘Traumatic’

Dr. Palmer called the lockdown experience “traumatic.”

Although the schools had practiced lockdown drills, she said, “practice was not like the real thing.”

Communicating with parents was a problem, she said, because the schools’ Internet service crashed due to heavy usage by students and staff. On the positive side, she said, the schools learned their weaknesses and are working on improving infrastructure so communications problems won’t happen again.

She commended the Police Department for doing a good job and the school staff for calming students.

Michelle Albright, the town’s Youth Services director, added that she was not contacted during the lockdown, but said that if she had been, she could have been of service, especially helping ease the fears of children and families.

Chief Troxell said the police did not think of Dr. Albright at the time of the incident, but would keep her in mind for the future.

A parent at the meeting, Bob Machson, said his daughter was in one of the “forgotten classrooms” for an hour and a half during the lockdown. He said she told him that boys and girls were scared because they hadn’t heard anything over the intercom, and started to cry.

Mr. Machson also asked the chief if he had a meeting during the lockdown with the first selectman.

Chief Troxell said the first selectman came to the high school and asked why she hadn’t been called. He said he contacted only the chairman of the Police Commission, not the first selectman.

His concern, he said, was there was a juvenile “person of interest” with his mother in the school’s office and there were serious privacy issues with having the first selectman, a civilian who is also a school parent, on the scene.

He explained that had this been a major storm or an incident like the Scott DeiCas matter, where a former Weston school bus driver threatened town and school officials, the first selectman would be at the hub of the matter because it was a threat to the town. But since this was entirely a school investigation, he said, the first selectman was not part of it.

Chief Troxell said he asked her to leave because the time and place to talk about the matter was not there, and generally he has a very good working relationship with the first selectman.

Dr. Palmer said there should be some way to involve the first selectman in the process. Communication protocols will be discussed at the district’s lockdown debriefing, she said.

The superintendent will conduct a public debriefing of the lockdown and discussion about school security measures on Monday, April 1, at 7 p.m. at the Weston High School auditorium.

Among the topics to be discussed are how security measures have changed in Weston schools since Newtown, future security changes, the role of school security monitors, how the police support school security, and how parents and the community can help.

According to a letter sent home to parents by Dr. Palmer, also up for discussion is how the schools “can manage new levels of security but not lose our Weston identity.”

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