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12-18-12 Schools' Security Issues in the News
Star Ledger - Security high as N.J. kids return to school in wake of Connecticut shooting

Press of Atlantic City - South Jersey school officials say security precautions now a way of life

Star Ledger - Security high as N.J. kids return to school in wake of Connecticut shooting

By Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger
on December 17, 2012 at 8:10 PM, updated December 17, 2012 at 8:40 PM

Police patrolled the parking lots around schools in Bridgewater and Raritan this morning as children returned to class, three days after the mass shooting that killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Connecticut.

In North Brunswick, the school district security team met Sunday night to outline plans for returning to school, and a police officer was stationed at each building during arrival and dismissal today. At the middle and high school, a moment of silence was held in honor of the victims of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Millburn School Superintendent James Crisfield visited all of the township’s seven schools this morning, to take the pulse of his district in the wake of the tragedy. He said attendance was normal.

"Generally the mood is somber, but all of our students are back," Crisfield said.

The school shooting in Newtown, Conn. was on the minds of parents, students and school officials everywhere as kids got back to class for the first time since a gunman forced his way into the Connecticut elementary school on Friday.

Most New Jersey school districts addressed the shootings in some way. Many emailed parents; posted letters on district web sites; or contacted families via mass phone calls or email "blast."

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In Cranford, a letter posted on the district web site said school officials planned to meet with the town’s police chief to review crisis lockdown procedures. Principals also met with staff before school, and principals and teachers planned to greet student with "warm greetings, smiles and reassuring welcomes to ensure a sense of comfort and security," according to the letter.

Reactions in schools varied, depending in part on the age of the students.

In Edison, Woodbrook Elementary School Principal Nicole Cirillo said she held an emergency faculty meeting this morning, telling staff "the most important thing you can do is ensure the children everything is fine."

Outside her school, the flag was at half-staff and the school’s marquee sign said "Woodbrook is thinking of Sandy Hook Elementary," but Cirillo said many of her 900 students _ in grades K-5 _ had been sheltered from the news by their parents. Her school did not hold classroom discussions.

She said she visited several classrooms, but only four children brought up the shooting.

"The most important thing we did was stick to regular routine," she said.

In Millburn, Crisfield said some students may address the shooting later, by holding a charitable event in the victims’ memory.

"Students and staff members feel a little powerless at the moment," he said. "If we can provide the opportunity to do something positive, we’d like to do that."

In North Brunswick, while elementary schools did not hold a moment of silence, Superintendent Brian Zychowski said teachers were prepared to answer children’s questions in age-appropriate ways. "In almost every level, in every school," the shooting came up, he said. Counseling is available for children, he said.

Outside, he said police presence was increased as "visual affirmation that we’re trying to do everything we can."

Parent Colleen Keefe, who has two children at Parsons Elementary School in North Brunswick, said she was glad to see the police. "I think it brought a sense of calm to the community," she said.

The heavy news coverage of the shooting spoke of unimaginable loss by the parents of murdered children. But there were also numerous stories of heroism by Sandy Hook school staff, who shielded children or tried to stop the gunman.

Hopatcong teacher Danielle Kovach, a special education teacher at Tulsa Trail Elementary School, said she spent the weekend thinking about what the Sandy Hook teachers went through, and what she could learn from them. At her school, at an emergency staff meeting this morning, she said "teachers were definitely fighting back their emotions."

But when the school day began at 8:05 a.m., she said they put their concerns away.

"On the inside we were hurting. This is something that hits close to home," she said. "But when those kids came through the door, we had smiles on our faces."

 

Press of Atlantic City - South Jersey school officials say security precautions now a way of life

by Diane D'Amicao, December 18,2012

 Monday was a typcial day for South Jersey students, but behind the scenes local school officials, staff and police monitored security plans and student behavior in response to Friday's shooting in a Newtown Connecticut school.

Superintendents contacted said procedures already in place allowed them to quickly respond beginning as early as Friday afternoon. They briefed staff and sent reminders to parents about the school's security procedures, and advice on how to respond if their children asked questions.

But they also knew that the Sandy Hook School followed many of the same security procedures and there would be a call to do more.

"It's no longer really just about the response," said Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. "We've got that covered. Now the question is how we can anticipate it."

All schools in New Jersey are required to do monthly "disaster" or "lockdown" drills that cover incidents including an active shooter.

Galloway Township school superintendent Annette Giaquinto said she received several calls from parents Monday, with questions and thanks for information she had e-mailed home and posted on the school web site and Facebook page.

One parent posted she had asked her six-year-old if he knew what to do, and he told her he should go in the bathroom, be very, very quiet, and not cry.

"Even though that was only one child, it is good to know that the drills we practice are understood and remembered," Giaquinto said in an e-mail.

Procedures such as locked doors that require visitors to be buzzed into the building are also the norm in schools today. This week's schedule includes many holiday events, and parents were asked to be patient if they are screened a bit more carefully.

Several area schools did have a stronger police presence today, and some will continue that presence through the end of the week when the holiday vacation begins. Cape May City parents can expect to see some Coast Guard personnel on at the school for the holiday concert Tuesday.

Local officials said the two major future topics are whether armed security should be placed in every school, and whether mental health issues should get more attention, especially for people no longer in school.

John White, a forensic psychologist and professor at Richard Stockton College said there are cultural and policy issues that must be addressed to try to prevent future shootings.

"For some, firing a gun gives them a sense of power and control that they do not feel they have in their lives," he said.

White also believes there is a tremendous void in mental health services for children and young adults.

"We have to look at revamping the mental health system," he said. "But schools themselves are not mental health resources. They can help identify a problem, but some students will need help beyond the school and intensive treatment they are not now getting."

Robert James, police chief for Northfield and Linwood had officers in schools Monday to monitor security procedures and look for vulnerabilities. He said he would expect many school officials to now discuss having armed security in every school.

"But it is a delicate balance," he said. "We want the schools to be safe, but we don't want to turn our schools into prisons."

Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School has armed school resource officers in its three high schools, Oakcrest, Absegami and Cedar Creek. There was also a police presence at the schools today at arrival and dismissal time, a signal to parents that the district was sensitive to parental concerns.

Superintendent Steve Ciccariello said high schools are large buildings with multiple exits that are monitored with cameras, and while they have procedures in place, any new incident is a time to review and see what can be learned.

"Unfortunately this is not the first time something like this has happened," Ciccariello said. "But we have learned a lot since (school shootings) in Columbine. It's been an evolution."

Bozza said they would not encourage armed security in all schools, or allowing teachers or principals to carry guns.

"It's tough enough to be a teacher without having to be law enforcement as well," he said. "Do we really want our principals walking around with guns?"

Schools remain one of the safest places for children, something educators said both parents and students should remember. And for most students, Monday was just another school day.

"I walked around, and the kids were not talking about it," Brigantine school superintendent Robert Previti said. "They're talking about the Christmas break and if there's a half-day of school on Friday. And that's how it should be."


Garden State Coalition of Schools
160 W. State Street, Trenton New Jersey 08608
609-394-2828



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