By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — Superintendent/receiver Jeffrey C. Riley said he’s confident that Lawrence Public Schools excel when it comes to providing a safe learning environment for its students.
“We think we well ahead of the curve,” Riley told members of the School Committee last night.
The schools district’s security was a key part of his briefing during the committee’s first meeting since last month’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut where 26 people were killed — including 20 young students.
“Almost all schools have a buzzer (entry) system — all but two,” Riley told the committee. He noted that those two schools will be receiving the security systems this year.
School officials had taken many steps to enhance school safety even before the Connecticut school tragedy, according to Riley. This included the replacement of 45 school security cameras that weren’t working and adding additional school security guards.
Each school has a crisis plan in place that is periodically updated and students receive monthly drills. In addition to staffing the schools with three dozen full-time school security officers, the Lawrence Police Department provides four school resource officers, Riley said.
One of the police officers is assigned specifically to the Lawrence High School campus while the other three “float” throughout the school system, wherever they are needed, he said.
“We think we have the best security of any school system in the Merrimack Valley,” Riley said in an interview later.
“We have put a lot of resources into security. We’ve done a lot with Chief Romero to make sure we have a safe environment for our kids. We take school security very seriously,” he said.
Riley said every school in Lawrence Public Schools has specific “crisis plans” in place to protect children and staff from situations like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“A lot of parents are concerned about security since the Connecticut tragedy, but I think they also understand we have put a lot of resources into the schools to make them safe,” he said.
At least one School Committee member — James Vittorioso — said he wasn’t convinced that school officials have done everything they can to make the schools safe.
“I don’t think the system has gone far enough,” Vittorioso said. He didn’t elaborate on what he thought was needed. But, he recalled many years ago that his proposal for metal detectors for the schools had been viewed unfavorably.
In addition to safety issues, overall building improvements continue to be a top priority for Riley as he nears the end of his first year as superintendent/receiver.
Christopher Merlino, the School Department’s Director of Facilities and Plant Management, last night updated the School Committee on various building improvement projects:
*Window replacements at the Bruce School.
*Boiler replacements at the Bruce and Breen Schools.
*Replacement of the flooring in the auditorium of the North Common Education Complex.
*Replacement of flooring on the first floor at the Breen School.
Merlino said his department is also taking an inventory of broken windows throughout the district and will be getting security screens installed where needed.
These and other projects will be funded from $780,000 set aside for the School Department’s capital improvement projects, he said.