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Belmont forms school security advisory group to review safety procedures after Newtown tragedy

Posted by Evan Allen  December 20, 2012 01:21 PM

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Belmont Public Schools are forming a school security advisory group to review the district’s safety procedures in the wake of the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut last week, according to Interim Superintendent Thomas S. Kingston.

“I think that most school districts are reviewing their security procedures, and it seemed most reasonable here that I involve the public safety officers, and teachers, and administrators,” said Kingston. “Simply to hear what their concerns might be about safety and security, and also to forge any kind of short-term or long-term recommendations they have, since we are in the process of putting together next year’s budget.”

On Friday morning, a 20-year-old Connecticut man shot his mother in her home and then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where he shot and killed 20 first-graders and six teachers before turning the gun on himself.

The advisory group, Kingston said, will consist of representatives from the Belmont Fire and Police Departments, as well as educators and administrators from all of Belmont’s schools.

Kingston declined to speak in detail about the security protocols that Belmont schools currently follow.

“We don’t discuss specifics of safety procedures,” he said, “simply for the reason that to do that could give information into the hands of someone who wished to do us harm.”

The tight-lipped policy, he said, has been met with anger from some parents, but he said that keeping details quiet is a crucial part of keeping his schools safe.

“To make public the security measures does compromise the security of the building,” he said.

A recent report released by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges found problems with Belmont High School’s security. Doors are often unlocked, the report found, and office employees cannot see people entering the school.

“Yes, that’s a concern,” said Kingston, when asked whether the district had looked specifically at the issues raised in the report.

He declined to explain what the district was doing to address those concerns, and the principal of the high school directed questions to Kingston.

Kingston said that the high school doors are not locked.

“We have an open campus. Lexington has an open campus. A lot of schools have an open campus,” he said. “We are looking at ways of increasing the security of a building in spite of it being an open campus.”

Elementary schools in Belmont, he said, are kept locked, and are monitored by video cameras. The middle school is being outfitted with video cameras and will soon be kept locked.

Kingston said the district has an emergency response plan that is in the hands of all school administrators, which covers everything from fires to suspicious packages to physical emergencies to delayed openings of schools.

This fall, the high school practiced a lockdown, or shelter-in-place drill, with the Belmont Police, he said, and the schools regularly have fire drills supervised by the Fire Department.

District officials met with police on Monday morning, he said, to discuss safety and security.

Assistant Police Chief James MacIsaac declined to comment specifically on any security protocols in the schools, saying that was being handled by Kingston, but said that Belmont police consider the schools safe.

“We’re confident that we have the resources and the training to respond,” he said. “You can’t stop everything, you can’t prevent everything, but we’re confident that we have the training and resources to bring into a situation.”

Kingston declined to say specifically what the advisory group will be considering in terms of new safety procedures. The first meeting, he said, will likely be held in January. It will not be open to the public.

In a statement posted to the Belmont Public Schools website, Kingston wrote that although he will not share specifics, “I do want to assure the public that we have heightened our vigilance, conferred with public safety officials, continually review our drills and procedures, and are doing all we can within our power to make sure our schools are as safe as possible.”

Though some residents were upset over the lack of details about security, others said they felt perfectly safe sending their children to school in Belmont.

“This made us all feel very sad, and it made us reflect on what’s important, and making sure we’re doing everything that we can do to keep our children safe and to work together to do that,” said Winn Brook Elementary School Parent Teacher Association Co-President Ellen Schreiber. “I’ve been pleased and impressed with the administration and the sensitivity that they’ve taken in dealing with the issue. At this stage, it’s still raw and still close to your heart, and you’re thinking about it all day.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com

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