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Board Of Education, Board Of Selectmen Approve System To Prevent Unfettered Access To Schools

Acting First Selectman Joe MacDougald says this is likely the first of many discussions, and the first of many steps, the town will take regarding school security.

 

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.

 

Lynne Charles December 22, 2012 at 01:55 PM
The question is how do we make our children more safe. In 62 mass-murder cases that happened in the US in the last 30 years, not one was stopped by an armed civilian. Even an armed sheriff's deputy at Columbine High School fired four times at one of the shooters while 11 of 13 victims were still alive and he missed four times. The solution is not to add more guns to a nation awash with guns. We are not making our children any safer.
Janet December 22, 2012 at 02:22 PM
I agree with the added security measures taken with the locks and cameras, but i also agree with Bob Allen that hiring CSOs is not the answer... This was a sick person wearing body armour... If there were a CSO he probably would have been the first one dead. I also think that Jennifer Tung and Joe MacDougald make great points. There can be sick and dangerous people in any town, and the availability of guns like those that were used just gives them the easy means to do catastrophic damage. Do we really have to make the schools (and malls and theaters for that natter) into fortresses in case a mentally deranged person decides he needs some attention? Or are there more practical and effective ways to improve safety?
Doan Steel December 22, 2012 at 06:22 PM
The problem with a armed guard on campus is the decision process they go through to use their weapon - will they always make the right decision - and if not - ewhat then?
Janet December 22, 2012 at 09:48 PM
The other problem with an armed guard is that they are not a guarantee either. Columbine had an armed guard.
Mark S December 23, 2012 at 04:25 AM
How about not just an armed guard, but also teachers who own guns, carry them, and go through special training. Now you're not talking about just one person who, if taken out, renders the school defenseless. Gun free campuses make it one of the safest places for a deranged gunman to go on a shooting spree. I also thought I read that Sandy Hook implemented a secure door system where people had to be buzzed in. I thought I hear that he shot his way through the doors to gain entry. Finally, are we in panic mode here? These types of crimes, while highly publicized and talked about for weeks/months, are thankfully still very rare occurrences. Maybe we don't have to "act fast" and spend a lot of money on largely ineffective measures. Perhaps a cooling off period so that everybody can think straight about this and become educated on statistics on crimes like this, and on what measures might be effective or ineffective. Maybe the best course of action is for everybody to relax.
Janet December 23, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Bars and alarm systems on all first floor windows plus the locked doors/buzz in system could slow down perpetrators enough for police to get there. I'm not saying that's the answer, just that there are other options to consider.
Randy Howe December 23, 2012 at 02:57 PM
As a parent and teacher, I agree with you wholeheartedly, Lynne. A combination of gun control laws, increased mental health services and, sadly enough, better school security that starts with developing a solid crisis plans and continues with making changes to each school building. And parents with children in afterschool programs, please let someone know if the doors are unlocked when you go to pickup. They were unlocked at Ryerson on Thursday.
Mark Jones December 24, 2012 at 04:34 AM
Where are all the part time Madison cops? They could be put to good use here.
Mark Jones December 24, 2012 at 04:35 AM
And just hope they don't need a quick exit there in case of fire?

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