Safety a Priority Since 'The Day the World Changed,' Superintendent Says
Tri-boro school leaders talk about comforting district communities and ensuring safety after Newtown school shooting.
For many on Friday, after details began to emerge about the shooting massacre at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school, the world seemed to stop.
People watched and read about the event from around the country. Parents hugged their children a little bit tighter when they got home from classes. And tri-boro school officials said they sprung into action, trying to not only come up with ways to bring district parents comfort that their children would be safe in school, but to actually ensure that that would be true.
Planning for emergencies such as the Sandy Hook school shooting did not begin on Friday, though. According to Butler Public Schools Superintendent Mario Cardinale, planning for these types of emergencies, the ones where an individual or individuals could enter a school and impose violence on students and teachers, began on April 20, 1999. That day, Cardinale said, "was the day the world changed."
"[Safety] is a concern that has been part of our profession since the day of Columbine," Cardinale told a packed room of parents and educators at Monday night's board of education meeting.
The room was mostly filled with people who attended the meeting to celebrate student achievements. But just hours after the first full school day since what has been labeled the second deadliest school shooting in American history, addressing Butler school safety became a priority at the meeting. Cardinale spoke of safety minutes after attendees stood for a moment of silence in honor of the shooting victims following the flag salute.
He told parents that the district has an Emergency Operating Plan which is constantly under consideration and being revised. As part of that plan, students participate in safety drills twice a month, Cardinale said. The drills, and other safety procedures, are part of a partnership between the school district and local police.
"We have been fortunate to enjoy an outstanding and cooperative relationship with the Butler Police Department," Cardinale said.
Another part of the relationship between police and the schools involves the actual security infrastructure. Butler Public Schools have indoor and outdoor security cameras installed in the school buildings that are visible by police from their headquarters. Police have trained with the school on safety drills as well, including an active shooter drill held in June that involved Butler police.
Overall, Cardinale said he feels the district is as prepared as can be for an emergency situation.
"We really have, we believe, a well-trained, safe school environment," he said.
But he also acknowledged that there is room to improve and more precautions that can be taken.
"We have a regularly updated process of regularly updating our emergency plan," he said.
Bloomingdale Public Schools will also be taking a closer look at emergency plans to see if further precautions can be taken, according to Interim Superintendent Frank Buglione.
Buglione said Bloomingdale police officers were present at district schools toward the end of the day on Friday and on Monday to make parents feel safer about the schools following the incident. But Buglione said officer presence is nothing new to Bloomingdale schools. The officers have made it part if their routine patrol, he said, to stop in and take a walk around the schools.
"I think it helps for people to see the police around and feel secure," Buglione said.
On Monday, Bloomingdale faculty members started the day with meetings about how to talk to students about the shooting. Guidance counselors were prepped for students who may be feeling upset and wanting to express their feelings. Buglione visited the schools and said the day seemed to go smoothly.
"We tried to have as much of a normal day that we could," he said.
Like Butler, the Bloomingdale district also has an emergency plan and frequently practices drills. But Buglione said he plans to speak with board members and school principals about what could be added to the plan.
"Like anything else, it constantly needs to be reviewed and looked at," he said.
Buglione said the district will also be looking to install surveillance cameras in all schools, beginning with 16 cameras that will be installed in the Walter T. Bergen School immediately. After the middle school is done, cameras will eventually be installed in the Martha B. Day and Samuel R. Donald Schools as well, Buglione said.
Kinnelon Public Schools Interim Superintendent Diane DiGiuseppe was not available for comment Monday, but in a letter sent to district parents, she said the district also has an emergency plan that is constantly being reviewed.
"Our schools, in cooperation with the Kinnelon Police Department, plan, review and practice safety measures routinely," she wrote in the letter. "As a result of a $100,000 Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools grant in 2008, Kinnelon developed and extensive Emergency Management Plan which has made Kinnelon a model for school safety and security. Each year this plan is reviewed and updated."
DiGiuseppe said police officers would be present and that there would be heightened security throughout the school days this week.
"I have been in touch with the Kinnelon Police Department, and together we have confidence that our schools are well-focused and prepared for safety," she said.