By Douglas Moser
---- — Area school districts opening in the coming weeks have not made substantial changes to their security measures over the summer, with superintendents saying they were satisfied with their security following the Newtown, Conn., shooting in December.
Some security plans have been tweaked, but many visible security changes that are happening are part of construction plans that predated the tragedy. Haverhill and Lawrence have beefed up some security hardware, such as cameras and buzzers at the doors, as part of ongoing renovation projects at various schools.
Area districts do a lot of the same things, including performing drills, working with police officials, reviewing evacuation and emergency protocols, locking doors that use buzzers for admission and assigning police officers to the schools.
Overall, superintendents said they were comfortable with school security.
“We’re satisfied with our security protocol as they are,” said Haverhill Superintendent of Schools James Scully. “I’ve been here three years now. My first two and a half years, we updated security throughout the system, with cameras, all doors secured, etc. We are working in conjunction with the police department to continually enhance all of our security protocols.”
Scully said the high school, which just underwent a $32 million renovation project, is “covered with cameras.” The middle school, which has some cameras, will receive more. Additionally, Haverhill has school resource officers assigned to several of its upper schools.
Lawrence also has upgraded its security system as part of ongoing renovations and construction, and was part of superintendent/receiver Jeffrey Riley’s turnaround plan.
Lawrence schools have 36 full-time unarmed safety officers distributed through the schools with an officer stationed daily in all but five of the city’s 32 schools. Those five schools are in close proximity to schools with an officer. There are also three Lawrence Police Officers dedicated full time to the district, and one half-time. They are based at the high school campus, with one working full time at the high school and the remaining officers floating throughout the district as needed.
According to Riley’s office, there are 540 video cameras with recording capabilities, with about 300 located at the high school.
Drills are performed multiple times each year for various types of emergency, including fire drills, school-wide lock downs and alternate route evacuations.
North Andover Superintendent Kevin Hutchinson said his system did not require security upgrades, but the administration did work with police to “tweak” the safety plan, including instituting the so-called ALICE safety protocol, an acronym that stands for alert, lock down, inform, counter and evacuate.
Hutchinson said the evaluation included some changes to entrances.
“One of things most of us had to review was exit and entry criteria in schools,” he said.
“We had buzzers at most schools. We implemented one more so all schools had some form of buzzing entry.”
North Andover has two school resources officers, one stationed at the high school and one assigned to the rest of the district.
In Methuen, Superintendent Judith Scannell said the system heightened its alert for several weeks after the December Newtown shooting, which happened just days after a high school student in Methuen was arrested for allegedly making Columbine-like threats to another student.
“We heightened police awareness for a week to two weeks following the incident, and cruisers were doing constant patrols through school properties,” Scannell said. “We had a second officer on duty in each building.”
That move was part of the district’s existing protocol, and worked as it was intended. She said she is “comfortable” with Methuen’s security, but keeps in contact with police Chief Joseph Solomon about cooperation and improvement to protocol. Methuen also adopted the ALICE security protocol in the spring.
“The chief and I have talked many times over the summer,” she said.
“Because of Connecticut, thinking is changing about the process for lock downs. So he and I are going to pursue this more. We’re both educating ourselves more about what is going on through the country as far as changing it up to work better through school systems.”
Methuen stations a police officer in each of its schools, and runs drills with police during the school year to practice various scenarios. “We do practice through the school year so students and staff are prepared,” she said. Its schools doors all have buzzers and cameras.
A message left in the office of Marinel McGrath, superintendent of Andover schools, was not returned.
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