As school resumed in Secaucus last week, a number of safety concerns were addressed by school and local officials in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. massacre of a week earlier. On Friday, Dec. 14, a gunman took the lives of 20 innocent children and 6 adults at a Connecticut elementary school.
The gravity of the tragedy was on the minds of many in attendance at a special town meeting held on Tuesday, Dec. 18. In fact, two students and their families who were relatives of the victims were directly affected by the Newtown tragedy according to Superintendent Cynthia Randina.
“We are working closely with specialists who are knowledgeable about helping staff and students to cope with tragedy,” said Randina. “They are providing us with advice, as well as the most current research on the topic.”
Safety in a small town
“They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America,” said President Barack Obama last week during an interfaith ceremony held in Newtown.
With a population over more than 16,000, long-time residents with deep roots, Secaucus gives off that quiet, small town vibe. The town has two elementary schools, a middle school, a high school, and a pre-kindergarten center. Last week there was heightened security throughout the school district and police officers stationed at the schools.
“For me, safety has always been my number one concern,” said Randina at the meeting. “I believe that we have taken every precaution to ensure our students’ safety.”
“We must challenge any and all non staff members who want to gain entry to our schools.” – Cynthia Randina
The principals and the superintendent have attended security training workshops offered by the Department of Education each year. The school district also has a Board of Education Safety and Security Committee, which is comprised of school board trustees, administrators, and security specialists and meets regularly to address security needs.
The committee, school administration and staff met last week to review the existing emergency plan and to propose additional security measures to the mayor and Town Council.
While the school administration plans to move forward with tightening security, maintaining a sense of normalcy was stressed.
“I don’t want children to feel like they are going into a fortress,” said Mayor Michael Gonnelli. “They still need to feel safe but happy.”
Randina said the guiding principle was “normalcy at all times…They are there to learn.”
Added precautions: designated entry, changed locks, increased police presence
The recommendations for additional security measures included tightening entry procedures to each building, hiring additional security, and requiring visitors including parents to have scheduled appointments to visit the schools during school hours. Many of the recommendations made last week will be set in motion immediately.
The superintendent told the mayor and Town Council that all the locks on the schools will be changed. To gain entry to the schools, visitors must identify themselves and state their business before entering.
“As we have learned from the Newtown tragedy, we must challenge any and all non staff members who want to gain entry to our schools, and allow passage only if there is a scheduled appointment,” said Randina.
All visitors will be required to sign in, including parents. At Clarendon, four main areas will be designated for entry. All middle school visitors will be required to enter the building through the high school entrance.
Workers will not be allowed inside the schools during school hours.
The administration said they would like to purchase equipment to copy and verify identifications of visitors. They also proposed adding another school resource officer (SRO). The superintendent recommended that the security personnel carry arms. She also made the request to have a police presence at large scale school events and additional security at the beginning and at the end of the school day.
Randina said safety drills will be conducted spontaneously and parents will be notified after the drill has taken place. The principals currently have a specific emergency drill in place in the event of an intruder in the building, which is practiced on a regular basis in accordance with Department of Education regulations.
Randina has asked parents to minimize student exposure to media in order to minimize stress, fear and anxiety. The administration has also asked parents to alert the guidance office if they notice any unusual behaviors in their children.
The staff, child study team, and guidance departments are on alert and will provide counseling as necessary.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.