'Not a fortress' -- School board discusses safety

Friday February 8, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- It has been a tough couple of weeks at the Brattleboro schools.

Following the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., school district administrators and staff began thinking about the security measures at the town's three elementary schools.

Then, last week, an unidentified person allegedly made threats against students in the district and law enforcement officials stood guard at the schools and patrolled the halls.

News of the alleged threat was released on a Sunday night and about half of the students were kept home on Monday due to confusion over what was happening.

Academy School Principal Andy Paciulli said the school was already running into issues with the heightened security measures that went into place last week.

One day, he said, a young girl was locked out of the school and Paciulli said it has been a challenge to have staff members available at the front door throughout the school day, and during the after school program.

"I don't know what the answers are," he said. "We have been struggling with some of this."

Now the Brattleboro Town School Board is trying to decide the best way to move forward to improve security at the schools without making visitors feel unwelcome.

Before the school board makes any decisions about increasing security at the town's three elementary schools, the board members want to gather input from parents, as well as from other members of the community.

Early next week the school board hopes to have links to an online survey on each of the elementary school websites.

The survey will ask if the current level of preparedness is adequate, and also will test the support for increased security at the elementary schools.

At the school board meeting Wednesday some of the board members seemed eager to begin working on improving security at the schools, but they said no decisions would be made until the survey responses are gathered.

Still, the board is going to begin looking into options that range from a locked secure door to installing cameras. The upgrades can get expensive, with some of the more technologically advanced systems exceeding $7,000.

The board members did not want to wait the three to five weeks it might take to assemble, distribute and gather the survey information, though they said they would wait until the results are in before making a decision.

And while it was hard enough for the board to figure out how it wanted to proceed, some school administrators warned the board that security can only be taken so far.

Paciulli pointed out that during an all school, evening event he might have up to 400 people walking through the doors of the school and he said it would be very hard to have every family member checked.

"There would be no way we could have any level of security for those events," Paciulli said. "I don't want the expectations to be so high that we would not be able to meet them."

At the meeting Windham Southeast Superintendent Ron Stahley said he did not know how long police officers and sheriff deputies would be patrolling the schools. School Board Chairwoman Margaret Atkinson said the board would have to try to balance the concerns of parents with the climate at the schools.

"I do not want to lose the welcoming community that we have worked so hard to create," she said. "This is our school. It is not a fortress."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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