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Buzzers and cameras may soon end Newton’s open school policy after Conn. shooting

Posted by Leslie Anderson  December 21, 2012 06:13 PM

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The Newton Public Schools, facing pressure from parents after the mass shooting at a Connecticut school last week, will probably install buzzers and cameras at the city’s elementary and middle schools, ending a long tradition of open buildings.

Superintendent David Fleishman said in an interview Friday that school and city officials will begin looking at a cost and timeline for making the changes to the schools’ front doors. In a letter to parents Friday, Fleishman outlined additional security issues district officials are examining, such as drop-off and pick-up procedures, identification and sign-in policies, and lockdown and fire drills.

Fleishman said he has spent hours with principals, police, and Mayor Setti Warren discussing safety and security plans in the week since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., left 20 children and six adults dead.

“Times have changed, we’re adjusting to the times,” Fleishman said. “Which is kind of unfortunate.”

Many schools throughout the state enhanced their security this past week, locking doors and screening visitors more thoroughly. But most Newton schools kept their front doors unlocked, angering some parents who started a Facebook page and an online petition asking the district to reconsider its policy. The online petition had 90 signatures by late Friday afternoon.

“It’s been a frustrating week,” said Joanne Caruso, a mother of two children in Newton schools. Caruso said she is pleased that the district is moving toward buzzers and cameras at the entrances, but in the meantime, she would prefer to have the doors locked when children return to school after the winter break.

Simply locking the school doors isn’t sustainable, Fleishman said. With the doors locked, schools would also need put an employee at the entrance to let parents and visitors in, he said.

“We need to spend our energy on permanent things,” Fleishman said.

The district has no plans to change its open high schools, where multiple doors are unlocked. The high schools are already equipped with cameras, and students carry identification, Fleishman said.

Any changes that the district implements would be done carefully, he said, acknowledging that it will mean a shift in Newton’s school culture, where parents drop off children in the classroom.

“Our goal is to make people feel we will be as safe as possible,” Fleishman said.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com.

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