School Security Plan’s First Priority: External Reinforcement

June 15, 2023
Plans to reinforce external security at the town’s four schoolhouses will begin this summer, as part of a five year safety and security enhancement plan. Photo Credit: Robert Dorer

Bedford school officials will reinforce external security in the town’s four schoolhouses starting this summer, the beginning of a five-year safety and security enhancement plan.

The measures, described to the School Committee at its regular meeting on Tuesday, will focus on deterrence of entry by vehicle, fortification of doors, and expansion of cameras identifying visitors. 

The details of the remaining four years were not revealed. Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad explained, “The remainder of the plan is flexible and will be unveiled in the future.” 

Discussion of the details has taken place in executive session over several committee meetings.

A broad range of Bedford High School constituencies would like to see internal cameras prioritized to deter what it says is an escalation of “incidents.” Those details were shared on Tuesday separately from the presentation on imminent steps to be taken.

The concept is supported by the BHS School Council, Parents Association, teachers’ union, Principals’ Advisory Council, faculty, and staff, said Principal Heather Galante.

Director of Facilities Taissir Alani provided details for the 2023-24 academic year, with installation beginning in the summer:

  1. Installation of the AiPhone system at locked entrances. The device features a larger screen and higher resolution than the cameras used currently. It will also reveal the number of people at the door. Cost is $120,000. 
  2. Addition of Defenslite anti-shatter glass in the bottom panels of ground-level doors to further deter forced entry. The product won’t prevent access, he said, but will provide enough resistance to add to reaction time. Cost is $135,410. 
  3. Installation of concrete bollards in locations vulnerable to forced entry by vehicles. Cost is $72,000, accounting for 60 bollards.

The total price tag of $327,410 is within the $350,000 capital expense approved by Annual Town Meeting.

“We met all spring on this,” Conrad said, with experts from the Edward Davis Co., a security services firm headed by the former Boston and Lowell police commissioner. 

“These will have an immediate impact, for the staff and for the security of the buildings,” Conrad commented. “They will have a low impact on visitors, on the public.”

He emphasized that these are first steps, and “we need to continue to move our safety and security forward, adding, “I don’t think you should do it all in one year.” Proposals for the subsequent four years are segmented so phases can be rearranged, the superintendent said.

Earlier, during the presentation by Bedford High School officials, Galante acknowledged that a new School Committee policy will be a prerequisite for the use of internal cameras.

Assistant Principal Tom Casey, who heads the district’s critical response team, noted that as far back as November 2020, BHS administrators conducted a walk-through with a security vendor to determine ideal locations for cameras. During the pandemic months, he noted, staff members were trained on the use of outside cameras.  

Casey noted that he, his counterpart Dan Hudder, and Galante all have worked in high schools equipped with cameras inside.

Casey presented data that he said would back up the need for surveillance.

In the BHS school year 2018-19, he said, there were 90 “incidents in which cameras could have proved useful or helpful or to resolve certain issues, investigations, or concerns.” The following year, which ended abruptly with the lockdown in March 2020, there were 50 incidents.

Tracking stopped until last February, Casey said, when there was “a very public incident when racial slurs were plastered all over the school building.” Over the next four months, he said, there were 80 incidents.

In 2018-19, he continued, 37 percent of the incidents were categorized as “safety,” which could mean something as simple as a student going to get something out of a car without authorization to leave the building. The other prominent categories were vandalism (21 percent), and theft (10.5 percent).

Almost half of the current year’s incidents have something to do with vaping, Casey said, resulting from the use of recently-installed vaping sensors.

He enumerated the challenges posed by the status quo: parent/caregiver and student concern about safety; building insecurity; emotional, physical, and financial costs. Last week, he said, a staff member discovered a student bathroom partition that has been detached. Committee member Sarah Scoville noted that there are no plans to install cameras in bathrooms, though hallway cameras could identify who goes in and out.

Student Vivian Liu said if cameras are installed, “students and staff will definitely feel more comfortable.” She added, “I know someone physically affected by bullying,” and the perpetrator was never identified. 

The camera plan “will have my full endorsement,” said committee member Dan Brosgol. “It’s well past time. There are dozens of existing policies we can draw on.”

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