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Panel aims to bolster school security

The school district has formalized its push to strengthen security measures in the wake of the mass shooting in a Newtown elementary school by forming a committee that will work behind closed doors.

In addition to guards that have already been added at the schools, the committee is looking into an increased police presence in schools, staff security cards, and a background check system for visitors, among other things.

According to the mission statement approved by the school board on Monday, Jan. 7, the committee will make security recommendations and come up with a budget for them.

Board of Education Chairman Austin Drukker said the committee is working in “uncharted territory” with regards to the sensitivity — and secrecy — of the process.

“You don’t want anybody to know what the security plans are because then they’re not so secure,” he said.

The committee’s mission statement said, “The purpose of the School Security Committee is to coordinate a safe school environment using best current security practices. The committee assumes that the Ridgefield Public Schools should work in concert with the Ridgefield Police Department, the Ridgefield Fire Department, First Selectman’s Office, security experts and advisors, and other appropriate town departments.”

The stated goals are to:

  • Research best security practices regarding school physical plant, communication, staffing, procedures, and training;
  • Establish short, medium, and long-term security goals for physical plant, communication, staffing, procedures, and training;
  • Conduct security audits by consultants and staff to monitor each school site’s security Ensure appropriate training for all staff;
  • [Establish] a school security committee in each building;
  • Develop security implementation plan with recommended budget;
  • Advise the superintendent, the Board of Education and the Board of Selectmen

The district has already been bolstering security, since a 2006-07 security audit, and since the shooting.

Immediately after the shooting, police were brought in to patrol the schools, and they were replaced with unarmed security guards the next week.

In a security update, Superintendent Deborah Low wrote Wednesday:

“School security guards (unarmed) have been hired for the entrances at the schools. The security guards follow a check-in protocol that has been reviewed by the Ridgefield Police Department. The procedure includes using one entrance, requiring visitors to present photo identification, and recording visitor purpose, check-in and exit times. The work stations for the guards are in the process of being set up with computer, phone, and door buzzer.

“The school security guards will be at the schools beginning one-hour before the start of the instructional day and ending one-hour after the school day ends. These hours will provide coverage for much of the before and after school activities at the elementary schools. There is one evening security guard at RHS.”

There are also plans to increase police presence in the schools.

“The district administration is preparing a request for additional Ridgefield Police to present to the Board of Education,” Ms. Low wrote.

Additionally, the Police Department has reviewed its patrolling routine “to ensure appropriate police presence and patrol of school grounds.”

Consultants are being brought in to review building security.

“School security assessment walk-throughs are being conducted within the next eight weeks for each school site with security consultants, police officers, and school staff,” Ms. Low wrote.

Following a 2006-07 security audit, the school district implemented a number of security systems in the schools, including door buzzers, and the district has been recently moving to improve its security cameras, which Mr. Drukker said the police currently can access from their headquarters.

The district is “preparing updated requests for increased surveillance cameras, especially at the elementary and middle schools, and will bring the requests to the Board of Education as soon as possible,” Ms. Low wrote.

The committee is looking into other security gear.

“The district administration is researching access control systems (card swipe system) for staff members and will recommend one to the Board of Education as soon as possible,” Ms. Low wrote.

The district is “researching visitor management systems (electronic background database scans of school visitors) and will recommend one to the Board of Education,” Ms. Low wrote.

Aside from Ms. Low and Mr. Drukker, members of the committee include: First Selectman Rudy Marconi, Fire Chief Heather Burford, Police Capt. Tom Comstock, School Resource Officer Fernando Luis, Police Commissioner Carl Lecher, Town Assistant Engineer Jake Muller, School Facilities Manager Joe Morits, Craig Tunks (district director of technology and operations Management), all nine building principals, and three assistant principals

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