By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Representing the 19-member task force that he formed to review current school security policies and practices in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, Superintendent Jon Sills unveiled a variety recommendations to the School Committee on May 14. Sills reported that, although the task force started with diverging opinions, they ultimately reached consensus by focusing on how to prevent “catastrophic violence” while “maintaining an educational environment.”
Superintendent Sills explained that the group began their deliberations by identifying what the limits of their scope would be. “Even if we decided we needed to prioritize security over education—rather than trying to balance the two—even if we put all our eggs in that basket, there’s no guarantee. What we were trying to do is to make ‘thoughtful bets’ about the likelihood of [certain kinds of threats]. What would our level of response be? What kinds of deterrents could we provide? As we learned from the tragedies [that have happened] across the country, seconds matter.”
Listing the task force recommendations without “price tags” at this point, Sills described how the group envisioned security enhancements at the four school buildings with the addition not only of hardware but of revised policies and practices as well. “It’s great to put in new technology and [infrastructure] but if the rules aren’t enforced, why bother?” Sills said.
The task force recommendations include:
- Move to a locked front door approach, plus adding intercoms and windows to the entry at all four schools. Initial initiatives have been carried out to enhance front door security at all four schools—which represents a change from Bedford’s traditional “open-door policy.” The only remaining work to be done in this area, Sills reported, is the installation of a window at Davis School which will be completed over the summer months. To read about the other front door upgrades, visit: https://thebedfordcitizen.org/2013/01/17/newly-formed-school-security-task-force-makes-preliminary-recommendations/
- Activate a door alert system at Bedford High School. According to Sills, the door alert system would not be triggered every time a door opened; it would be activated only if doors failed to close after a certain length of time.
- Increase the presence of School Resource Officers at John Glenn Middle School (JGMS) and BHS to full time.
- Install open door alerts on all exterior doors at Davis, Lane and JGMS.
- Apply anti-shatter glass film on front door glass, interior classroom glass and exterior windows. This represents three possible areas of added security with three associated levels of cost.
- Install panic buttons in the main offices of the schools to send alarms to the police.
- Install fans for first floor Davis and Lane classrooms and gyms in order to be able to keep exterior doors closed. Sills reported that exterior doors have been left open to increase air circulation, a practice that will be discontinued.
- Continue to improve early identification capacities through anti-bullying education and student support services. This is to address possible threats that would come from within a school community. Work has already begun in this area, particularly at the high school. Sills said that “interpersonal work is a major factor of safety.”
- Devise new protocols and consequences for students or faculty who prop open doors.
- Devise new protocols for admitting visitors.
- Devise new protocols for student release at Davis and Lane schools.
- Explore Safe Routes to School funding for a possible service road behind Lane School, and support a study for Davis, Lane, and JGMS enhancements to relieve drop-off and pick-up congestion.
- Adopt an ALICE crisis response protocol district wide in age appropriate ways. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evaluate. Sills described ALICE as a “menu of options,” saying that a single response—like huddling students together in a classroom—may not be the best life-saving response and that effective action can depend on the circumstances. ALICE provides “permission to exercise judgment to escape” because “an armed intruder has no other purpose except to take life.”
School Committee members briefly questioned some of the task force findings but largely deferred their comments for future discussion. Committee member Mike McAllister, an elementary level principal in Belmont who heads a school security task force there, spoke about his uncertainly with regard to the ALICE program, saying he hoped to learn more about it before making a decision about whether to approve the practice in Bedford.
“One of the tricky things about ALICE is that people in the same security community have serious disagreements about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing,” McAllister said. “A lot of the moves that protected kids in the moment at Sandy Hook are not necessarily moves that the security [professionals] would recommend—like a bunch of kids hiding in the closet or letting kids run [together out of the building].
“I’ll go on record as being really nervous about ALICE, but most of my nervousness is from not understanding enough about it [yet].”
Members of Bedford’s School Security Task Force: Brad Hafer, School Committee ; Jon Sills, Superintendent of Schools; Henry Turner, Principal BHS; Kevin Tracey, Principal JGMS; Andrea Salipante, Assistant Principal at Davis School; Keith Kinney, Assistant Principal at Lane School; Sue Baldauf, Director Bedford Youth and Family Services; Sgt, Jeff Wardwell, Bedford Police Department; Lt. Chuck Stone, Bedford Fire Department; Dan Crews, Davis parent and security consultant; Diane Bernstein, Lane parent; Fred Bush, Davis parent and security consultant; Bob Marshall, citizen and fire fighter; Peter Ricci, BEST PTO president and fire fighter; Marylou Barsam, Lane parent; Bobbie Ennis, Council on Aging; Gabrielle Davis, Middlesex Community College intern; Rogers Muyanja, Middlesex Community College intern; and Rachel Holmes, Middlesex Community College intern.