Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer led the briefing, along with Jo-Anne Keating, director of finance and operations, Dan Clarke, director of facilities, and Lois Pernice, director of pupil personnel services.
In addition to a presentation, the public was also given the chance to ask questions about school security in light of the recent lockdown at Weston High School triggered by a threatening note found in the hallway.
Superintendent Palmer said the goal of the district is to provide students and teachers a safe learning environment where they don’t have to be concerned with security. “We’re not trying to transform the schools into fortresses, we want joy in the classrooms,” she said.
However, after the Sandy Hook school shootings on Dec. 14, 2012, she said the district had to re-evaluate security at the schools. To that end, the district recently hired several new security guards. Three guards are stationed every day at Weston High School, while two guards are stationed at each of the other three schools.
A parent asked if the security guards are armed. Dr. Palmer said while all the guards are licensed to carry firearms, they are not armed at the present time.
Police presence on School Road, where all four Weston schools are located, has also increased. A police patrol officer is currently stationed on School Road — also called The Mile of Safety — nine hours a day when school is in session.
Having a police officer on School Road is important in order to delay and deter potential incidents, Dr. Palmer said. She said research shows potential perpetrators avoid areas where police are highly visible. In addition, having an officer near the schools is important in order to ensure a quick response time so if there were an incident, the perpetrator would be delayed from acting.
In addition to the security officers and School Road patrol, the school board is considering creating a school resource officer (SRO) position, which would put another officer on the school campus during school hours. The board is expected to make a decision about the SRO at a meeting on April 9. Dr. Palmer said she supports having an SRO on board.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Keating gave an overview of the schools’ security procedures. She said the schools have a comprehensive security plan for daily operating procedures and emergency responses, and have frequent training, practice, and drills. In addition, each school now has its own safety and security committee.
But issues with the recent lockdown, which included communication problems because the district’s server went down, classrooms that weren’t evacuated in a timely manner, and a traffic buildup on School Road that delayed dismissal, revealed the schools need to do more to enhance security and improve emergency procedures, Dr. Palmer said.
She said the district is reviewing its security policies and procedures and is going to hold a security tabletop summit in the near future. “We’ve spent hours going over every single part of the lockdown,” she said.
She noted that the entire staff received active shooter training on a recent professional development day.
The district is also reinforcing its infrastructure. There is a plan to enhance the server so it won’t crash during heavy usage, and to reinforce doors and windows so they are more protective. The district is considering installing blue strobe lights so students in various areas of the campus will know from a visual cue if there is a lockdown in process.
A parent said that during the recent lockdown some students coming back to the high school from the parking lot had no idea what was going on and they were brought into the schools.
Dr. Palmer said there were lessons learned from the lockdown and the district hopes to improve things. “We’re aiming for redundancy,” she said.
Parents had numerous questions about the lockdown and asked if the police had a suspect in the case.
Police Chief John Troxell said the incident is still under investigation and the FBI is involved.
He said there was an initial person of interest but no arrest was made. He said if an arrest was made in the future, very little information would be made public if it involves a juvenile.
Dr. Palmer said it is difficult to figure out who writes a threatening note. She said in the 10 years she spent as a high school principal, the authors of the vast majority of threatening notes were never identified.
A parent said his daughter was in a classroom that wasn’t evacuated along with the others.
Dr. Palmer said the “system did not work” and there were three “forgotten classrooms” that were not evacuated in a timely manner. She said the district is considering a sticker system to mark doors to prevent that from happening again.
Another parent was concerned about student safety when the high school students were evacuated to the intermediate and middle schools.
Chief Troxell said police officers escorted the students and the state police were on the scene with firearms-sniffing dogs to ensure no weapons were being brought to the other schools.
There was a question as to why 200 students from one of the other schools who were on a field trip were brought back to the school when a lockdown was under way.
Chief Troxell said he felt the issue was “contained” to the high school, so the other schools did not have to change their routines.
Dr. Palmer said the parent’s point was well taken and the schools would look at areas off campus, such as churches, where students could be sent if necessary during an emergency.
There was a question about whether the schools would consider installing metal detectors.
Dr. Palmer said metal detectors were not considered a deterrent because there were many openings in a school. “They’re not an added level of security,” she said.
She noted that unlike in the past, when security measures were kept secret, the trend now is to reveal them in order to deter incidents.
A parent asked if, in addition to active shooters, the schools and police had considered other types of threats. Police Sgt. Mike Ferullo said yes, the police have plans in place to deal with other incidents, such as “incendiary devices.”
In the end, Dr. Palmer said there is nothing more important than the safety and security of every single student. She asked parents to be “the eyes and ears of the district” and to report anything that looked out of order. “We’re trying to be proactive and will never take security for granted,” she said.