22 Aug 2014
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Superintendent Outlines Security Situation in Vernon Schools

She said many things are in place, but hinted at some improvements as well.

Superintendent Outlines Security Situation in Vernon Schools

In an intense presentation to the  Board of Education on Monday, Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway outlined the state of security regarding the town's educational facilities.

Conway was quick to say that safety has been a priority for her administration since she came to the top schools post in her town of residence two-and-a-half years ago. But since the Newtown school shootings - exactly a month ago - nothing can be overlooked, she said.

"The events over the past month have made us think some more about school safety," she said. "We are working to ensure all our kids are safe."

Flanked by Police Chief James Kenny and Fire Marshal Ray Walker, Conway broke down her overview into four categories: training, facilities, threat assessment and a safe school climate.

In terms of training, Conway said that since 1999, after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, schools across the country have been practicing both "soft" and "hard" lockdown drills to prepare for possible intruders, specifically what Kenny calls "active shooter situations."

She has mandated that a hard lockdown drill will take place at each school once per month.

She said responses to fire drills are "automatic" and she wants to be able to say the same about lockdown drills.

Floor plan outlines, maps of schools and keys to each school are in each police car, she said. 

She said staff members are training to be strict on visitors entering the buildings but welcoming at the same time.

Conway pulled no punches when discussing facilities. Doors are now required to be locked and all main entrances must be secure. That means designs and a cost analysis are being formulated to limit direct access to the hallways in three of the seven schools in town that, in the words of Michael Purcaro, the town's emergency management director and director of business and finance for the school system calls an "airlock."

Conway said no vestibule area should provide direct access to a school. She did not name the three schools specifically on Monday, but since the Newtown shootings town officials have mentioned them as being Northeast School, Rockville High School and Skinner Road School.

Other facility matters Conway mentioned were:

• The rear drop-off area at Vernon Center Middle School will be staffed using a flex schedule.

• Visitors must not only use the buzzer system to check in, but they must show identification and obtain a visitor's pass upon entry. Even then, an escort might be required inside a building.

• All schools have a new radio system that can be used to contact staff members systemwide.

• Cameras are at all main entryways. Tech experts are working on getting the cameras connected to public safety dispatchers.

• ID badges among staff members have been standardized.

• An extra security guard is being asked for at RHS s part of the 2013-14 budget proposal.

• Police officers trained in Homeland Security matters will be touring each school beginning this week to compile a "vulnerability assessment."

• Schools should have greeters.

Facilities assessments will be compiled after the police tours of the buildings and any physical improvement will be compiled into one capital outlay project, school officials have said.

Regarding threat assessment, Conway said she would entertain the idea of a committee that can study the protocols on when the staff can intervene during an incident and when the police must be called.

Conway said a safe school climate is about "fostering a culture of respect," and added that "is a two-way street involving booth stunts and staff."

She said goals are to prevent bullying, use proactive strategies, built trustee relationships in which one adult in each building cam be trusted by each student and ignoring the "code of silence" when a peer does something that promotes an unsafe climate.

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