In response to last week’s school shooting in Newtown, CT, school and safety officials spoke with parents at length about safety procedures at Springfield Schools at the Springfield Schools Board of Education meeting on Dec. 17.
Springfield Chief of Police John Cook joined School Board members and School officials in a presentation on how the schools are dealing with the immediate aftermath of the tragedy and general safety precautions. During the presentation and the question and answer session that followed, parents questioned if the safety measures in place were enough.
Cook and schools Superintendent Michael Davino said that since the news of the Newtown shooting on Friday, Springfield police officers have had an increased, visible presence in township schools. Officers, he said, have been at the schools during the start of school and dismissal times and will continue to be there at those times for the rest of this week. Cook noted that he is stepping up police training for active shooters, saying that while 75 percent of his officers have undergone the training, 100 percent will have gone through it by the end of the year.
Cook, Davino and Schools Director of Human Resources and Professional Development Ellyn Atherton ran down the safety precautions currently in place. They did not provide specific information about emergency procedures out of concern that people threatening the school might exploit that information but instead offered a broad outline.
They emphasized that the schools and local emergency responders have a longstanding, strong relationship and that schools and police were in regular communication. In addition to the required drills and communications mandated by state law, Springfield schools have given police and local emergency responders additional access. Cook noted that all police officers have pass cards for the schools. In addition, the Springfield Office of Emergency Management mobile unit vehicle is able to monitor feeds from school cameras, allowing for instant visual access during emergencies.
Cook and Atherton, the chair of the school district’s crisis management team, noted the district’s frequent emergency drills. The district is required to hold eight drills a year, for active shooters, bomb threats, evacuations and lockdowns. Springfield schools, they said, go far beyond the requirements. Cook noted that Gaudineer postponed an active shooting drill scheduled for Friday after news of Newtown broke.
In the drills, teachers and students are strongly urged to not only memorize instructions but to think actively during emergencies.
“We try to condition them to not only follow directions and routines, but also to react to disruptions in the middle of the routines,” Davino said.
A member of the Union County SWAT Team for almost 20 years, Cook said emphasized that his officers had specialized weapons and training for active shooter emergencies. In addition, he noted the advantage of Springfield’s small size.
“I’m ten seconds away,” Cook said. “I’m going to be here.”
While parents expressed appreciate for Cook and his department, several worried that school safety measures did not go far enough.
“The parents are happy to see the police at the schools,” one parent said. “Why is the presence only for this week?”
She added that when she dropped her children off at school on Monday morning, she saw parents walking out with tears in their eyes.
Other parents fretted about access to schools. While visitors needed to be buzzed in to school buildings, several parents worried that unwanted guests could still entry. Another asked why armed guards weren’t being considered. When Davino made a passing dismissive reference to placing bars on school windows, several parents in the audience asked why the schools wouldn’t do consider doing so.
“We can’t just stay status quo,” one parent said. “It isn’t enough.”
The school board cautioned against those what they saw as knee jerk responses.
“The one thing you don’t want to do is overreact,” board member Scott Silverstein said. “”We all have to ask ourselves ‘is that the environment we want our kids in.’”