In the wake of the Newtown shooting, while Ridgefielders were still on edge over a search for a man possibly carrying a gun in Branchville, a small group gathered at the town hall annex for a regularly scheduled, informal “lunch bunch,” sponsored by the school board.
Keeping kids safe was the topic on everyone’s mind at the sparsely attended meeting.
“This is a game changer, things that we never thought about… things that we can’t comprehend,” said Board of Education member Irene Burgess.
Following the shooting, police were stationed at all the schools, and Superintendent Deborah Low contracted with a security company to install a guard at each school for the rest of the year starting this week.
Adam Safir, a Ridgefield parent whose security firm conducted an audit for the district in the 2006-07 year, pointed out there is a difference between guards and police officers.
“It’s not a very high-paying job… You have to have somebody who not only knows what they’re doing but is thought of as part of a whole plan…
“It’s got to be police officers,” said Board of Education member Karen Sulzinsky.
“I wouldn’t paint a broad brush and be dismissive of all security guards,” Mr. Safir said, adding that there are very good security guard companies. “It’s really important who the security supervisor is.”
The schools have been increasing security in recent years.
The audit done years ago spurred changes at the schools, like video buzzer systems at the front doors, stricter sign-in policies.
Some aspects of the plan were not discussed publicly.
The school district has video cameras, which Board of Education Chairman Austin Drukker said police can tap into, and the district’s rolling capital plan includes upgrades to that system.
The district also has regular “lockdown” drills.
“A full head-on lock down is, you lock all the doors nobody [is allowed] in nobody out,” Ms. Burgess said. “Kids are in the classrooms with the door locked,” she said, adding that in some cases they are hidden. Parents and any other visitors in the school are also part of the drill, she said.
“Modified lockdown” is a less heightened level of security.
“Locking doors and classes going on as normal,” Mr. Drukker said.
“If people had to get out, some schools would allow people to leave, adults not children,” Ms. Burgess added.
“The cops want those hallways cleared,” Mr. Drukker said. “You have to have procedures so that they can get in there and safely clear the building.”
Among a flurry of ideas for hardening physical security, bullet proof glass and strong doors to cordon off areas of the school were also discussed up Monday.
Locking down is a defense, Mr. Drukker said, adding that it doesn’t get at the core question of preventing these attacks.
“You need to have doors locked that they can’t get in that limits the damage; it’s not going to stop it — it’s awful, but that’s just a fact.”
Nationally and here in Ridgefield, conversations have turned to prevention —addressing psychological dysfunction that can turn violent and gun control.
At the lunch bunch, people discussed keeping dossiers on potentially troubled students and families.
Nationally, there has been sharp focus on gun control, a controversial topic with complicated politics.
In letters to the editors, some Ridgefielders called for stricter gun control, as well as the need for better cell phone coverage and tighter security in general. Some praised the district for its response.
Mr. Safir added that security means more than preventing shootings, and districts have daily worries like parents who don’t have custody, and sex offenders.
Superintendent Deborah Low wrote in an email to the school community that the district would take a new look at security practices.
“The Newtown events will be thoroughly examined by police and security experts and they will provide schools with updated recommendations,” she said. “We also will contract for a security audit in Ridgefield, as was done about six years ago. The recommendations of these experts will result in our plans moving forward.”
Mr. Drukker said it’s possible new policies, procedures, information will “come down the pike” from the state and federal government, and that may also change the district’s planning.
“We’ll wait to see what protocols come down.”