Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Graner held an open forum with parents Thursday to address security measures in place and changes coming soon. Sitting alongside Ledyard Police Lt. Michael Finkelstein, Director of Maintenance Sam Kilpatrick and Gales Ferry Fire Chief Anthony Saccone, Graner presented the district’s plans.
“I think we need to develop a culture of enhanced security,” he said. “Security is something we need to pay more attention to.”
But having better locks can’t guarantee 100 percent security, especially from within the school community. The 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, for instance, was done by students.
“We have to foster a trusting relationship among all members of our community,” said Graner of students and parents and teachers. “It’s this whole business of kind of keeping an eye out for each other.”
Graner said that we now live in an environment where school security has to be taken more seriously. Video surveillance equipment and door locks will be replaced and upgraded and the following changes have or will take place as soon as possible.
From now on, all schools in the district will limit the time the front door is open and unattended, a staff member will greet students and visitors at the front door during high frequency times, sign-in procedures with be more strict and standardized throughout the district, and schools will ask visitors for their ID upon entry.
Substitute teachers and volunteers will have security badges; faculty and staff will address anyone seen without a badge and direct them to the office.
“If their patch falls off they need to go to the office and get another patch, we need to know and children need to know they’re safe,” Graner said.
Also, the Ledyard police will be patrolling the schools more frequently, and the DARE officer will be assigned to the schools when he is not teaching DARE. Unusual emergency scenarios will be added to the emergency procedures and drills and manuals will be made available in all the classrooms and police vehicles.
The presentation opened up to parents’ questions:
Q: What’s the timeline for the replacement on locks?
A: Sam Kilpatrick, the director of maintenance, said they are still working on the details and that some have been replaced in high school already. He said school door locks are approximately $430 a piece and custodians are working on doors by order of priority.
Q: Why don’t you ask for identification before you buzz people in?
A: Graner said he has placed greeters at school doors to check IDs and direct people to the office.
Q: How are you going to stop someone if they’re already in the building?
A: Graner explained how difficult that would be as he reminded parents that the shootings at Columbine High School were done by students and the 2006 Amish school shooting was done by man who delivered milk.
Q. The current practice is that the school secretary buzzes people in and a parent asked if it is it appropriate for the secretary to be responsible for the security of the building. “Is that too much responsibility to put on a secretary who has so many other responsibilities?” “Is it time to release that responsibility to trained professionals?”
A. Graner reminded people that Adam Laza, the shooter in Sandy Hook Elementary, wasn’t let into the school but let made his own entry. And again, the shooters at Columbine were students.
Q. A parent, who said that it was very reassuring to have police officers at each school after the shootings in Newtown, asked if Graner was considering adding School Resource Officers to each school.
A. “I’m not sure how much more security you’d get out of having six resource offices and it would be hugely expensive,” he said.
Q. Do the schools keep track of who has keys to the building?
A. Graner said there is an inventory of keys and who has them and they’re also looking at an electronic system that would let administrators know when a door is open.
The presentation included a short tour of the middle school, which is notorious for its early 1970s concept design that created clusters of classrooms separated only by a curtain.
The condition of the school surprised most parents and they felt more insecure about the safety of their children. The open concept classroom clusters provide little protection against an intruder and offer few places for the students and faculty to hide.
In the middle school, they will replace the heavy doors that separate the classroom clusters with heavy-duty doors that will remotely lock automatically when needed. Principal Greg Keith said he has ordered walkie-talkies for the clusters to supplement the archaic intercom system and the school’s insurance company is sending an advisor to the school to recommend security measures.
Graner said many of the security issues at the middle school would be resolved if/when the school is renovated. He said architects are preparing project documents now and that residents will have to approve the item in a referendum in May.
Attendees also made the following suggestions: better communication from schools and the superintendent about changes or issues, a double-sided badge, asking for ID before a person is in the building, temporary but real walls in the middle school.
What recommendations do you have for improving school security in Ledyard?