The Board of Education and the Board of Selectmen, in special meetings Friday, both unanimously approved a special appropriation of $45,000 to purchase and install a videocamera, intercom, improved locks, and a buzzer system at each of the town's public schools.
Town officials said Friday during the Board of Education meeting that the goal is to have the system ordered and installed in early- to mid-January, or as soon as the vendor can order the equipment and have it installed.
A special emergency meeting of the Board of Education at 7:30 a.m. was attended by the school board, school board employees, school officials, Madison Public School Superintendent Thomas Scarice, Madison Police Chief Jack Drumm, and several concerned parents, among others. The meetings Friday followed a decision Wednesday by the Board of Finance to take expedited action on the special appropriation.
While various school security measures have been contemplated over the years, the fast action on fortifying the schools comes in the wake of the Newtown, CT Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. Friday was the one-week anniversary of the day that a 20-year-old man, armed with Bushmaster AR-15 assault-type rifle, a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm, and hundreds of bullets in high-capacity ammo clips that apparently allowed him to shoot off dozens of bullets without reloading, killed his mother, 20 children, and six teachers before killing himself. The guns were all legally obtained by his mother.
Several debates took place during and after the Madison Board of Education meeting about the role of security in schools, how much detail should be revealed about security measures being contemplated, and whether the steps being taken so far are sufficient.
Board of Education member Pamela Meier said she "absolutely is in favor of this and I accept this," but she also lamented that the board felt compelled to act, as she saw it, out of fear.
"I'm stunned like everybody is that we have suddenly gotten to this point," she said, noting that there have been many discussions about school security over the years, but none that moved this quickly. She said she had always thought that Madison was not a community that had to lock its schools.
"We are not a community like that, we want to be trusting, open," she said, again adding that she was in favor of the measure under consideration before the board. "In one instant of madness, everyone has done a 180 in a week. I just don't want to become that kind of community."
Bob Allen, a father of a student, who attended the meeting and sat in the front row, said he felt the measures taken so far do not go far enough. He said he was upset that a police presence inside the school is being contemplated for Daniel Hand High School, and not for other schools. His daughter attends another school in town.
"Why is she less precious than someone at Hand?" he asked.
Scarice and board members explained that Hand's building, which is essentially two buildings, and schedule, where students change classes and sometimes have to change buildings, present unique challenges.
Scarice also noted that the police department's proposal to station an officer there is just that, a proposal under consideration by the board, among many proposals and offers made by the police department as the board decides which direction it would like to take.
Allen remained unconvinced that the board was doing everything it could, as quickly as it could. Another proposal under consideration, that would involve spending approximately $120,000 by the end of the year to hire community service officers also was not sufficient, he said. "We might as well go to the toy store and buy stuffed lions," he said. "Spending money on CSOs is a total waste of time."
"We need to stop people before they get access to the building. We're not doing enough," he told board members during the meeting.
Madison mom Jennifer Tung, who also is chairman of the Board of Finance, recommended that the schools give some thought on how to re-educate staff and students in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.
She said it's not enough for the school to put a paper sign on a door saying that it should not be used as an exit, and expect every teenager in the building to focus on that before blowing through the door. She noted that gym classes, the marching band, and members of other groups are in and out of the high school constantly.
She said parents need to counsel their children that their lives at high school "need to change."
Madison resident Eric Manke said he understood that making the schools more secure will take time, but said he was in favor of improving the security of the schools' front doors. He noted the Clinton has a simliar system, that Guilford has a similar system, and that it's time for Madison to have one. He encouraged the board to act quickly when it comes to evaluating other measures to keep the students safe, and to not let process and procedure take precedence.
"We've got to step it up," he said. "We can't lollygag around on this."
Acting First Selectman MacDougald said he anticipates there will be additional discussions, and decisions, soon.
"This is the right step for right now," he said of the additional fortification of the schools, saying that it will eliminate "unfettered access through the front door."
He added that there are 169 towns and municipalities in Connecticut and that many, if not all, are asking the same questions that Madison is right now, in the wake of Newtown, and that school officials in Madison can learn from those conversations and decisions as well.