With the mass school shooting in Newtown, CT, still fresh on many people's minds, residents in the Bedford Central School District are wondering what measures should be taken to improve security locally.
Dozens of people, including parents, administrators, school board members and police, gathered Thursday night at Fox Lane High School to discuss what can be done and how the district responded to the Dec. 14 tragedy. The talk was in addition to one held Monday at Pound Ridge Elementary School and another held Thursday morning at Bedford Village Elementary School.
Starting off the talk, Superintendent Jere Hochman, along with the principals and Fox Lane middle and high schools discussed what they did and their debriefings. Their challenges last Friday included dealing with the unfolding events, along with identifying staff with ties to the Newtown area.
“We have quite a few staff members who live in the Newtown area," said high school Principal Joel Adelberg.
Advice literature was sent out to parents to help them deal with their kids' possible reactions; Hochman noted that the hard thing parents had was dealing with the kids over the weekend in the immediate aftermath.
Once kids returned to their schools, decisions were made to have large presences of faculty ready to greet them, principals explained.
“I just felt the kids needed to see us," Adelberg said.
Officials reported that things went well Monday. Middle school Principal Anne Marie Berardi, for example, said Monday went “as well as it could have gone.”
Hochman said that, "you could tell there was a difference, but generally it was school."
Hochman also noted that officials respond to what is going on with their students.
“We take our lead from the kids," he said. The superintendent also praised the job that teachers did in dealing with the students, saying it is “amazing how they tuned into kids.” Those who needed special attention and support in the aftermath were also identified, he explained.
Several measures have already been taken, including placing information signs up at the high school and reallocation of high school security monitors in the building. Additionally, the district is setting up a text messaging system to send alert to parents; the system can also be used for school staff.
What to do next, particularly in the long term, includes a wide range of possible measures.
Some parents advocated having permanent police patrols at schools or some sort of security marshalls.
Among them was Joe Malichio, a Pound Ridge resident with kids at Pound Ridge Elementary and the Fox Lane Campus.
“They're very vulnerable," he said.
Hochman told parents that there will be a short-term police presence in the schools' vicinity. However, while Hochman is open to having a permanent patrol, he expressed concern about whether it could send a message to younger kids of things not being safe.
In response, parents implored the superintendent not to take the scenario off the table; Hochman told parents that it will be considered.
John Sauro, a Pound Ridge parent, has started a petition calling for police to be stationed at all Bedford schools.
"You cannot walk into a government building, get on an airplane, or go to a public event without the presence of law enforcement and the same should be done for our children's schools," he wrote in a letter.
At the meeting, Sauro disagreed with Hochman's concern about students getting anxiety about a police role.
“Police officers are looked up to. Firemen are looked up to. They're not to be feared," he replied. Sauro also argued that the change should be made quickly.
Bedford Police Chief William Hayes told the audience that what police do depends on what people ask for.
“We're going to do what the community wants us to do," he said.
Currently, the high school has a Bedford policeman stationed, who is called a school resource officer. The purpose of that program, Hayes explained, is not security directly, but rather it is to provide counseling to students and general law enforcement services. However, Hayes did describe the consequential state of having one stationed as being a "collateral" benefit.
Several residents brought up security in the district's various schools. They ranged from a question about the differences in locking the high school versus the middle school, after-school security and whether there should be changes to the existing buildings.
A Bedford Village Elementary mom worried about entrance security for kids at after-school events. Hochman replied that it will be considered.
A particular item of concern is the state of security at Fox Lane Middle School. With its three houses and six buildings and adjacent woods, kids can walk outside for traveling to events, an aspect at the school eyed as a safety challenge.
Hochman described the matter as "of great concern to us," and noted that the school district's proposed capital plan and bond vote—the referendum is now being eyed for October—could include an overhaul of the middle school main entrance and house entrances to make them more secure.
Mount Kisco parent Richard Hooker asked whether West Patent Elementary School, a building that would receive a massive renovation under the capital plan, could be demolished and replaced with a more secure school. Hochman replied that there has not been enough support in the community for replacing the building but that security is being considered as part of the overhaul for the existing structure.
Talk, at one point, focused on existing drills taken at the schools. They include fire drills, which officials cited as the most common, lock outs where a building is shut but with normal business inside, and lock downs where people hide inside of rooms due to a threat inside the building. In the case of Newtown's, Hochman, explained, people inside were following a lock down.
Other emergency scenarios include an evacuation and a evacution with people heading to another site.
Mark Betz, the district's assistant superintendent for business, noted that repetition of drills is important.
“It has to be routine, it has to be consistent.”
In the cases of people needing to stay inside of class rooms, it was noted that teachers can be added to the new text alert system and have existing phones. West Patent Principal Vera Berezowsky said that at her school, given its open layout, staff have the ability to give signals.
The discussion included dealing with students who may be viewed as at risk emotionally, as it was noted that shooters in past instances had their own problems.
Students in the district, Hochman explained, are encouraged to report if they are worried about a safety matter. He also said that staff are aware of students who need support.
“We have them on our radar screen. We check in with them periodically. We know which adults know them best.”
Hochman also proactively debunked a possible myth that he worried, based on initial media reports that Newtown shooter Adam Lanza had asperger's syndrome, could lead people to think that folks with it are prone to violence.
“It is not a characteristic," he said.
Even with preparation, Hochman noted that different scenarios can happen than anticipated, and what might be looked at as a remedy could be ineffective in another specific attack.
Going forward, Hochman explained that the district's safety committee will look at feedback. Recommendations would then be made for what should be done. He described that process as something that will happen "immediately," noting the planning process for the 2013-14 annual budget and for the capital plan bond vote.