School Officials Propose Comprehensive Safety and Security Assessment

Local education officials want to immediately undertake a comprehensive examination of safety and security inside and outside the town’s four schoolhouses.

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad said he will ask the School Committee to authorize spending up to $75,000 for the assessment.

Conrad described the proposal to the Finance Committee Thursday evening, looking to pay with a reserve fund transfer. Committee members supported the idea but asked Conrad to use the education budget and return to the Finance Committee near the end of the fiscal year if the reserve fund transfer is still needed.

The superintendent said he didn’t build the expense into this year’s budget because he decided to accelerate the survey after recent episodes of violence against schools. He added that he wants to undertake the assessment during the current fiscal year so that recommended upgrades can be built into the fiscal 2024 and 2025 capital budgets. The survey and report could take up to eight months, Conrad said.

The review incorporates physical, technological, and procedural security, Conrad explained. “We understand some of our vulnerabilities. We expect that one of these services will point out to us vulnerabilities that we don’t see.”

The audit will address each school’s safety policies and procedures, including staff training and emergency response; hardware and software; and equipment and fixtures.

Taissir Alani, Facilities Director, said the recommendation follows an in-house review. “We looked at card readers, various platforms. We’re looking to unify everything. That issue triggered the need for a specialized consultant.”

Member Elizabeth McClung asked why the police can’t be tasked with the assessment. Conrad said the schools have discussed the plan with the police chief and school resource officer. “An audit,” he explained, “goes beyond the scope of just one single department. It gives us the best practices from around the nation. All of our emergency services will be incorporated into this conversation.”

Another Finance Committee member, Erica Liu, asked Conrad if Bedford can benefit from similar work in other towns.

“Every town has different vulnerabilities,” Conrad said. “We can’t rely on our neighbors.” Alani gave an example. At Davis School, “many classrooms lead right to the outdoors. That’s one of our weaknesses; it needs to be retrofitted. It’s a specialized, tailored study.”

Member Ben Thomas said the actual upgrades will need to be phased in. The study will facilitate prioritization, Conrad said.

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