Officials begin public school safety forums

Apr 12, 2018 by

Published in the March 11, 2018 edition

By DAN TOMASELLO

LYNNFIELD — The School and Police Departments are continuing to collaborate on safety initiatives, Superintendent Jane Tremblay and Police Chief David Breen said at last week’s Huckleberry Hill School PTO meeting.

Tremblay and Breen decided to discuss school security with the PTOs in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February.

After Tremblay became superintendent in 2014, she began working with Breen to implement new security initiatives in the town’s schools.

“We got together and decided that security was the number one thing we needed to talk about,” said Tremblay. “Security in our schools is the most important thing that we do. It doesn’t matter what our MCAS scores are and what ranking we have if we can’t keep our kids and staff safe.”

Tremblay noted the School Security Task Force, comprised of School Resource Officer Patrick Curran, Sergeant Al Scotina and Middle School Principal Stephen Ralston, has been evaluating safety initiatives the past several years.

“One of the things they spent a tremendous amount of time on was going through each of the buildings and saying ‘this works and that doesn’t,’” said Tremblay. “We came up with a plan to fix the things that needed to be fixed.”

Tremblay said the School Security Task Force identified evacuation routes at each school.

“We solidified what those evacuation routes will be,” said Tremblay. “We shared them with the teachers and faculty, and worked with the DPW to make sure those evacuation routes are clear in the winter, spring, summer and fall should anything happen.”

“We trained not only the teachers and staff, but students at every school,” added Breen.

Tremblay said school and local officials discuss security frequently in order to determine “what we need to do better and what we need to tighten up.”

“I feel very fortunate to work in a place where the Police Department works hand-in-hand with the School Department because that doesn’t happen everywhere,” said Tremblay.

Breen agreed.

“I had been the chief for several years before Jane became superintendent,” said Breen. “We didn’t have the level of cooperation we have now. Believe it or not, there are other towns where the chief of police and superintendent of schools butt heads. It just doesn’t make sense because you aren’t getting anything done by doing that.”

Breen and Tremblay have been working with Town Administrator Rob Dolan and the Board of Selectmen to implement new security initiatives.

“We have had some problems with the doors in the past,” said Breen. “We want to be able to lock them from the inside. We have been working with the selectmen, and they have been able to find some money for us to purchase hardware to lock the doors in a fashion that we find acceptable but is able to pass the fire code, which is extremely restrictive.”

Tremblay noted different vendors presented a variety of options to local and school officials recently. She said the Administrative Leadership Team voted unanimously to select a particular door-locking device.

Breen thanked the selectmen, particularly Selectmen Chairman Chris Barrett, for working with him and Tremblay to move the latest safety initiative forward.

“We never rest on our laurels,” said Breen. “We are always looking at new technology, new hardware, new protocols and new training.”

Breen said the town partnered with local banks in order to purchase the COPsync911 program in 2015. COPsync911 is a software-based alert notification system that is available on computers and mobile devices.

“In an emergency situation in a school, COPsync allows the teachers and staff in a school to communicate with the Police Department not only through the dispatcher but responding cruisers as well,” said Breen. “Teachers and staff can communicate with us in real time.”

Breen noted the town is looking for a new vendor for the program.

The police chief said 160 cameras have been installed at the town’s schools.

“They are web-based, which gives us the ability to watch them at the station and in cruisers,” said Breen.

Breen said the School Department implemented the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) program during the 2016-2017 school year.

“We modified the ALICE program because we thought there were specific parts of it that weren’t acceptable to introduce to children in the elementary schools,” said Breen. “There are other parts of that we felt we could make better. A lot of people think a lockdown is what you should do in these instances. But with Columbine and Sandy Hook, that is not really the case. There could be situations where we get the information from COPsync, and direct students and staff to a certain area of a school that is away from the bad guys.”

Breen encouraged parents to let the Police Department know about any suspicious behavior they feel needs to be addressed.

“If you see something, say something,” said Breen. “Sharing information early is critical for us.”

Q&A

After Tremblay and Breen concluded the presentation, they answered questions from parents in the audience.

In response to a question from School Committee member Rich Sjoberg, Breen said ALICE’s Counter component “was completely eliminated from the elementary school level.”

Tremblay noted she and Breen were present during a training session at Lynnfield High School, where they saw students make decisions quickly and decisively.

The mother of a kindergartener asked what is the protocol if a student is out in the hallway when there is an intruder on school grounds.

“The teachers are trained to look out in the hallway and grab every kid they can if they can,” said Tremblay. “Even if it’s not their student, they will grab any kid they can and we will figure out whose who afterwards.”

Huckleberry Hill School Principal Brian Bemiss noted staff members will check restrooms as well.

While Tremblay said security drills at the elementary schools are “much more controlled,” she said there were teachers who grabbed and pulled students into classrooms during a drill at Lynnfield Middle School.

In response to a question from School Committee candidate Kimberlee Kossover Hansen, Breen said fire codes have restricted certain hardware from being purchased.

“We just worked our way through that minefield with the hardware we bought,” said Breen.

Tremblay said each school will be announcing when fire drills take place moving forward, which was not the practice in the past.

Huckleberry Hill PTO President Darlene Kumar inquired who monitors the back path. Tremblay said there are cameras surrounding the elementary school.

In the wake of the recent alleged threat against Lynnfield High School, a mother inquired if a student who makes a threat against a school will be allowed to come back.

“I feel like they should be removed from school,” she said.

Tremblay said it’s not a “cut and dry answer.”

“It’s not as easy as you think,” said Tremblay. “A student is let back into the building if a threat is not credible. But if the threat is credible, the student will not come back into our district. We don’t make these decisions in isolation. We sit down and talk about them, and take it very seriously.”

Tremblay said many of the rumors surrounding the alleged LHS incident were not true.

“We tell people as much as we possibly can,” said Tremblay. “That is as frustrating for us as it is for you because we hear all of the rumors out there and we want to scream from the mountain tops and say ‘that is not true.’”

Breen encouraged people not to believe everything posted on social media, as many of the rumors surrounding the alleged LHS threat “just didn’t happen.”

“I sometimes refer to social media as Greek mythology,” said Breen.

Tremblay said teachers and administrators work diligently to monitor students who are going through a difficult time.

Breen informed the Villager the two officials will be visiting the other three PTOs in the coming weeks.

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