Safety top concern for Hopewell School Board
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Jan 16, 2013, 11:47
The tragedy of the shooting that left 20 children and six staff members dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Conn. still resonates with the community and especially with the School Board.
Superintendent Dr. John Fahey took a somber tone at the school board meeting lat week, and said that the massacre changed his perspective on safety in the schools.
“We’re going to make some strong moves to fortify some of the safety procedures in our schools,” Fahey said.
The Tuesday following the shooting, Fahey sent out a letter to all parents in the city.
“We are concerned about the safety of all children and we need your help,” read the letter. “Our schools must be a safety for orderly operation.”
Some actions have been taken.
“We’ve also taken on different responsibilities and assignments to ensure the safety of our buildings’, access to our buildings,” Fahey said during the meeting. “We still have some things to work on.”
The letter also stated five actions parents can take to ensure safety in the schools, including: reporting immediately to the main office after entering any school and refraining from taking students out during instructional time except in the event of an illness, appointment or family emergency. Parents will also be asked to provide an ID when visiting the schools.
“We take it very seriously,” Fahey told the school board members. “It’s really changed our perspective. Every time something like this happens, it just makes you think. In that respect, we’ve taken it very seriously and we are working very diligently to put some things in place that need to be put in place. Some of these school divisions already have them...it will involve computer equipment, name badges, visitor badges. It’s been a real eye opener for us.”
Fahey told the board Ray Watson, Assistant Superintendent for Administration, is currently working on the budget to come up with funds for capital proejcts to increase safety measures in the schools. Watson said the funds for increased security will most likely be found in the building and bus replacement fund.
While Watson is working to find the funds to increase the security, he wanted to remind the board that often times the best security measures are free.
“The most important thing is that we don’t want to give people a false sense of security,” Watson said. “...I’m convinced, and everybody in this system is convinced, the number one we need to do for safety is go back to relationships.”
School Board member, Larry Joyner, asked a question that has sparked debate across the nation since the day of the shooting; “Are we adding any firearms?”
Watson responded immediately.
“No sir, not if I can help it...If they’re going to be there, we want them to be well-trained certified police officers who are doing it,” he said.
Watson praised the Hopewell Police Department and the Hopewell Sheriff’s Department for their reaction. He said the day of the shooting, several police officers and sheriff’s deputies were at every school in the district.
“We do have a great cooperation with them,” Watson said. “Again the number one security measure boils down to the number one thing we’ve said about schools and achievement and everything else, it’s relationships...you can’t build a building that people can’t get in.”
The letter sent home to parents said there was a possibility for increased police presence at the schools, but reminded them that the measure is not a cause for alarm.
“Don’t look at at this as a concern,” Fahey explained at the meeting. “Look at that as bonus. When they’re there, we’re safe.”
The school board expressed a unanimous desire not to arm teachers.
School Board member Deborah Marks said the board should be concerned about a General Assembly bill proposed by Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, that would require some teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons in schools.
“It’s the scariest thing I have ever heard in my life,” Marks said. “I don’t know where he is coming from.”
“I don’t want the teachers running around with a firearm,” Joyner added. “That’s a scary thought.”
Joyner said the discussion was necessary following the events in Conn.
“Every year, there’s a reason why you review your crisis plan,” Joyner said. “So when changes and so forth that happen you can anticipate and make corrections to it.”
Fahey noted he also wanted the conversation of safety to involve parents. Fahey presented the board with a proposal to bring a gang task force from Richmond to hold a forum at Hopewell High School at the end of Feb.
“We want to educate parents so they can be aware of some of the things to look for,” Fahey said. “...I don’t want to raise a flag and say we have this here, but I think I want to make parents aware. I can honestly tell you, from my perspective, I have seen no indication of that in schools.”
The board authorized Fahey to set up the forum on gang awareness and prevention in partnership with the Hopewell Police Department.
“It’s a different side of safety, but it’s a side that’s fairly important to schools as well as community members,” Fahey said. “It is an opportunity for them to come and be familiar with it.”