2012-12-19 / Schools

School officials: Students’ safety is No. 1 priority

Local superintendents react to tragic shootings at Connecticut elementary school
BY KATHY CHANG
Staff Writer

The Dec. 14 school massacre in Newtown, Conn. shocked the nation and left many questioning whether their children are safe when they go to school.

Local school districts are charged with preparing for such scenarios, as unconscionable as they may be.

“The safety of our students and staff is our highest priority,” said Edison Superintendent of Schools Richard O’Malley, who oversees 17 schools. In light of the tragedy in Newtown, he said the school district will thoroughly review all of its safety procedures.

“In addition, we will re-evaluate our school facilities throughout the district, which are very old and overcrowded, to ensure they are adequately addressing school safety,” O’Malley said. “I anticipate a real honest and healthy dialogue will occur in the coming months with our community regarding the school safety infrastructure throughout our school district.”

The incident was not just a school security issue, but also a mental health issue that school district officials take very seriously, he said. It has been reported that the shooter, 20- year-old Adam Lanza, was quiet and may have had a form of autism. However, it remains unclear whether any potential disorder played a role in the violence.

Still, O’Malley said the issue is being addressed throughout his district, which has a partnership with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. O’Malley said he also has been in touch with Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan, who has issued increased patrols in school neighborhoods.

“[Chief Bryan] is committed to working with the district as partners to further provide a safe school environment in Edison,” he said. O’Malley said although they can never anticipate life’s events, officials can set plans in place and be “vigilant and proactive,” particularly when it comes to the safety of the children.

“We review, plan and practice emergency responses and protocols with students and staff monthly and throughout the year,” he said. “We collaborate closely with the Edison Township police and other public safety and health officials to review plans and procedures to maximize school safety and security.”

Metuchen Superintendent of Schools Vincent Caputo, who oversees four schools in the district, said their prayers are with the families of the brave staff members and the families of the innocent children who were killed in Newtown.

“[In regards to security] we are always proactive and when necessary, reactive [such as in responding to the shootings],” he said.

Caputo said the safety of staff and students remains the district’s top priority.

In August, the Woodbridge Township School District, which consists of 24 schools, appointed Thomas Terpanick as the district’s first security coordinator — responsible for coordinating district-wide school safety, fire and security programs and reporting to the superintendent.

The appointment came in the wake of a shooting at an Ohio high school in February that left three students dead. When discussing the security coordinator position, then-Superintendent John Crowe said the appointment was not being made due to a shortage in school security, but to examine school security in light of events in other parts of the country.

“I think we are recognizing that times are changing,” Crowe said at the time. “We read in the paper all the time [about] new security threats; I think it is [about] becoming more proactive.”

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