Concerned parents, students and community members, numbering about 240, came to Joel Barlow High School on Tuesday to attend a Redding/ Easton School Security Forum. Close to 60 others watched from home on the live stream provided by hello, Redding.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tom McMorran started out with a short presentation. He talked about putting our children first and making our buildings even safer.
Dr McMorran said that our priority was to work together to make sure Redding and Easton children were excited and happy to be in school and that they felt safe. Parents also want to feel safe and secure about their children being in the school buildings.
A website called Wait Until 8th was mentioned as a resource for parents who wondered when was the best age to give their children cell phones. Deferring unlimited access to what is happening in the world was suggested as a way to keep children’s anxiety level down. An anti bullying app called Rethink was also suggested.
Dr. McMorran said that sharing all of the details about the tightening up of the schools would be similar to leaving the key to your front door in the lock when you went on vacation.
He did share that Barlow’s large windows were now lined with a 3m shield that was less susceptible to shatter. All of the interior doors, which only lock from the outside, were double checked. Building management software called School Dude was implemented. Large boulders already present were relocated to provide a place for students to shelter in case of an emergency.
The Superintendent explained that schools were built to provide learning and to allow for a quick and smooth egress if an emergency arose. Lock Ins and lock downs were new phenomena so new ways to protect people sheltering in the building have been developed.
Steve Schnell from the Redding Police department was instrumental in installing systems where police dispatch can view the feed from school cameras.
Both Redding and Easton police departments have collaborated on safety plans with the schools.
Currently, Redding has a School Resource Officer (Officer Chris Vadas) in the middle school and a School Security Officer (Officer John Parisi) at the elementary school. Easton has one SRO (Officer Mark Pastore) that spends time in both of the lower schools. These men have an excellent rapport with the students and the programs are working well.
Dr. McMorran stated that they are very mindful of building a community where no child feels isolated or victimized Each student should feel they are part of a tribe.
The kids need to know that everything is built on a foundation of love so they can prepare for happy, capable lives as adults.
Redding’s Captain O’Donnell and Easton’s Chief Shaw went through the training protocols required for their staff.
Dr. McMorran then opened up the floor. About 2 dozen parents and students took turns sharing their thoughts and asking questions.
Most were in favor of having a Student Resource Officer (SRO) assigned to Joel Barlow High School. A concern was if the SRO would be in addition to the current security staff or would be a replacement. Dr. McMorran and Reg 9 Board Chair Mike D’Agostino explained that the security staff was an integral part of the life of the school. Replacing them was not a consideration. Their costs are covered on the school budget. Traditionally the SRO was a member of the police department and therefore covered on the town budget.
Redding First Selectman Julia Pemberton said she was in favor of having SROs and SSOs in our schools. Although, as a shared resource, Easton would have to bear part of the financial burden. Easton First Selectman Adam Dunsby agreed that Easton would pay its share. Both agreed that we needed to decide the best method to keep kids safe and then we’d figure out the dollars.
Metal detectors were suggested, although Dr. McMorran had previously stated that he didn’t want to make our schools into fortresses. The idea is still under consideration.
The doors at the high school are locked during the school day but open after hours. Parents were unhappy with this policy and wanted to see the doors locked at all times.
Several Easton parents said they wanted an SRO in both of their lower schools instead of a shared officer.
Michael Klein Wassink, Senior Class President said that school spirit was down. He spoke to the need to pull students into tight knit circle so they could learn to take care of each other.
Mackenzie Wenzel, Student Body President, talked about the cultural problem students had with approaching counselors and administration if they had ideas or things to share. She said that she always felt welcome and heard but students needed to be encouraged to do the same.
Several other students made comments about school safety.
Natalie Hammond and Kim Fox, the principals of the two elementary schools spoke about reaching out to all students to make sure they get the support they need. They stressed that collaboration with parents was vital.
Redding Board of Ed member Laura Hoeing represented the Easton Redding Community Coalition Parent Committee. Hoeing explained their initiatives to educate the greater community
Mike D’Agostino thanked everyone for participating in the dialogue and coming out. He advised that this was only the first step and there would be more to come.
Later, Pemberton commented, “In the short term we have increased patrols at Barlow and next week we will have an officer in the school while we work out the details of an SRO and the shared expense between Redding and Easton. In order to provide an officer in the school from now until the end of the school year. I’ve asked Captain O’ Donnell to work up a schedule associated with the extra police presence so we know how many shifts will need to be covered and what the overtime costs will be. we are working to minimize Overtime. Then we will have a discussion with the board of finance about how to fund any expense that would exceed our budget for OT.”