After Newtown: School security scrutinized

school securityWhen a lone gunman broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012, the terror he brought to bear created ripples of fear throughout the world.

In the wake of his rampage, school officials in Easton have responded by partnering with local police to look at — and implement — enhancements to security in the town’s schools.

“It’s had a very profound impact,” said Dr. Bernard Josefsberg, school superintendent for Easton, Redding and Region 9.

The approach being taken at the district’s schools is three-pronged, he said.

• Measures are underway to augment security to the physical environment of the schools. These include surveillance methods, ways of controlling access, communications and hardware.

• Staff training in protocol and procedure for crisis handling has been reviewed and tightened up.

• There has been ongoing collaboration and coordination with the Easton Police Department.

Dr. Josefsberg has explained the administration’s approach in letters to parents and at January school board meetings in Easton and Redding as well as the tri-board meeting.

But he said that his understanding of parental fears and need to know does not preclude boundaries.

“You don’t want to provide detailed blueprints of what you’re doing,” Dr. Josefsberg said.

Armed guards

According to Dr. Josefsberg, an Easton resident attended January’s tri-board meeting to speak in favor of more security personnel in the schools.

While Dr. Josefsberg “fully understands” why a parent might want an armed police presence, he has concerns about the message that is sent out doing that.

At the school board meetings last month, Dr. Josefsberg said that his take on security in the schools is to have “whatever allows learning to continue without interruption.”

And his feeling is that too much police presence could detract from an atmosphere of learning.

He recognizes that opinions on this sensitive topic will likely be mixed within the community.

“I hope people can recognize a range of opinions,” Dr. Josefsberg said.

One voice in favor of heightened police presence is Cathy Santangeli, chairman of the Samuel Staples Elementary School Parent Teacher Association (PTA).

She has been glad to see an increased presence by the town’s police at the elementary school in the weeks following the shootings in Newtown.

“It’s been comforting to see more police at the school,” Ms. Santangeli, mother of a first grader and pre-kindergarten student, said.

She wants it to continue.

“I hope that going forward, this will continue or increase,” she said.

Ms. Santangeli feels a balance is required.

“We don’t need police walking around with semi-automatic weapons,” she said. “But I think there should be some form of security, whatever that might entail.”

Communication is key

One thing that Dr. Josefsberg feels is imperative is communication.

“You can’t have enough communication,” he said.

Dona Zappulla, co-chairman of the Helen Keller Middle School PTA, feels that school officials spent a lot of time communicating with parents in the days following the shootings in Newtown.

“The administration was very open with the community,” she said. “It’s been a top-down approach, and it’s been cohesive,” she said.

Ms. Zappulla praised Dr. Josefsberg and the two lower school principals — Kim Fox-Santora, at Samuel Staples Elementary School, and Susan Kaplan, at Helen Keller Middle School.

“They’re the perfect triangle,” she said.

The school’s partnership with the town police is another key ingredient in security upgrades.

“I’m very appreciative of what the police department has done,” Dr. Josefsberg said. “Chief [James] Candee and [Officer] Mark Pastor in particular.”

Ms. Zappulla, mother of four children ranging from second to 10th grade in the Easton/Region 9 school system, has felt her input would be valued by the administration.

“They’ve welcomed parental input,” she said.

The bottom line

Ms. Santangeli said parents want to know that everything possible is being done.

“Anything to keep our children safer, I think any parent would agree to,” she said of new pick-up procedures.

Ms. Zappulla agrees.

“It’s taking an extra second out of your day,” she said. “Parents say it’s an extra second that’s so worthwhile.”

Dr. Josefsberg is pleased with the direction things are going.

“I think that we’re taking a sound, reasonable approach,” he said.

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