Safety improvements made in many Mass. school districts

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September 3, 2013, 7:50 am
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(NECN: Steve Aveson) – School is officially in session across New England, and with that comes renewed concern for parents about the safety of their children.

This summer, many school districts across Massachusetts took steps to ensure school remains the safest place children will be all day.

December 14, 2012 was a devastating day in Newtown, Conn., when police say 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members in a mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Those events rattled a nation, including the Groton-Dunstable regional school district in northern Massachusetts, which is similar in size to Newtown.

On that day, Superintendent Anthony Bent couldn't help but think that tragedy could just as well have happened here.

“There was a lot of questions, a lot of concern, a lot of sadness, a lot of where do we go from here.”

The Newtown shootings became a precursor for what the district did over the summer to prepare for the new school year.

Budget money was moved around and used to purchase additional cameras and monitors for school offices. The cameras are focused on doors, which remain locked during the day.

In addition, the corridors in the high school have been labeled with specific names, so that everyone knows where they are at all times.

And if someone were to enter, a designated staff member would lock themselves in this room and communicate with the rest of the school.

“So you say, there is an intruder in a wing of the building. Now everybody knows where the danger is, because one of the things that happened at Columbine, and one of the things that happened at Sandy Hook was that they were using protocols where everyone would stay in place.  And there's no need for someone to stay in place in one end of the building if the danger is on the far end of the building. Those people should have the option to leave the building.”

“I definitely feel a lot safer to know that the school systems are doing everything possible to protect our children.”

“I think they're great. Anything to keep the kids safe is good.”

The upgrades at Groton-Dunstable regional high school stem from an approach called ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evaluate.

It's a system in place already in different areas of the country and will be taught and implemented throughout the district this year.

“There are differing things that they can do and one of the things is before the intruder even gets there and they know that that person is in another part of the building, they can evacuate, they can leave," Bent says. "And then part of it, that some people think is new and frightening, is that there's a suggestion that the people in the room when an intruder comes in that they take some action themselves.”

Bent goes on to say, “Part of the training would be you know if it works, and you are comfortable and thinking that you have no option at that point, charge, throw something at them.”

A stark reality for teachers normally putting together a lesson plan is now having to learn a plan of attack.

“This is not a mandate for anybody to do anything but this is simply saying if you are huddled in the corner of a classroom and an intruder manages to get into your classroom, you may choose to do something other than just cower in the corner, because those are the people who unfortunately lost life.”

According to Superintendent Bent, the last part of that safety plan is not yet set in stone. Again, he says teachers would not be mandated to take matters into their own hands and he is against teachers having guns in classrooms.

Meanwhile, other Massachusetts school districts are making security upgrades. In Walpole for example, additional security cameras will be installed in all district schools by Thanksgiving. And in Boston public schools, $1.4-million has been invested this year to upgrade safety equipment.

Tags: Steve Aveson, school safety, newtown connecticut, sandy hook elementary school, school security, groton dunstable regional school district, alice, superintendent anthony bent
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