EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 10, 2013

Salem officials focus on improving school security

Residents encouraged to present ideas and questions at forum

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — Resident Sherry Kilgus-Kramer said she thinks about the potential for school violence nearly every time her two children get onto the school bus.

She and other parents know a tragic situation, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, could happen anywhere — even in Salem.

“You just never know where it’s going to happen,” said Kilgus-Kramer, president of the advocacy group Strengthen Our Schools.

That’s why local school officials have scheduled a public forum for 7 p.m. Monday at Salem High School.

The forum’s purpose is to explain school emergency procedures to parents and receive public input on how security can be improved at the town’s eight public schools, according to Superintendent Michael Delahanty.

“From my perspective, this is very important for the community,” Delahanty said. “Parents will have the opportunity to express concerns about our current procedures and share ideas.”

School officials will speak, as will Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten and fire Chief Kevin Breen, who also is the town’s emergency management director. School Resource Officer Matt Norcross will participate as well.

But the key is school district and town officials listening to what residents have to say and deciding from there what can done to make the schools safer, Delahanty said.

Concern has been heightened since the Sandy Hook incident Dec. 14, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother, then killed 20 young children and six others at the Newtown, Conn., school.

Delahanty said the school district routinely conducts drills, including school lockdowns, to make sure all students and staff know what to do in an emergency. But, he said, tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shootings cannot be prevented.

“The way I see it, we were very prepared to respond,” he said.

There are three school resource officers working in the district’s eight schools.

Some parents have expressed concern about school safety, he said. One particular concern is the portable classrooms at the high school, where an outside door must be left unlocked because of the many students who need to enter throughout the school day, he said.

But doors to the classrooms inside the portables are locked when necessary, he said.

Another concern is the entryways to the schools because a front door at each is left unlocked for easy public access, he said.

Locking the front doors at Soule, Fisk and Haigh elementary schools would require major security upgrades so those doors could be locked with the push of a buzzer, Delahanty said.

It’s also difficult for staff to see who is coming through the front door from the main offices at those three aging schools, he said. They would improve under a $17 million renovation plan to be presented to voters in March, Delahanty said.

Residents voted not to renovate the three schools last year, despite supporting a proposal to upgrade the district’s three other elementary schools a year earlier.

Breen said he anticipates many parents at the forum will have general questions about safety and what their children should do in such situations.

He said he will explain basic procedures for students and staff, such as when to evacuate or when to hide, depending on the situation.

“The first thing is you want to protect yourself and those in your charge,” Breen said. “Between myself and Deputy Chief Patten, I hope we can allay some fears.”

Kilgus-Kramer said the forum will be a valuable opportunity for parents to voice their concerns. Some parents have told her the schools need bulletproof glass, she said.

She said she is most concerned about the need to renovate the three elementary schools and hopes improved safety features will be part of those plans.

“I think parents will be looking at that with those renovations,” she said. “I think the school district should do whatever it can to protect the students — every parent wants that.”