BROADALBIN – The Broadalbin-Perth Central School District held a safety forum for the community Wednesday where participants discussed what the school is already doing – and what it could implement in the future – to ensure students are safe while in school.
Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson said the issue the district faces, along with many others across the nation, is determining where to draw the line to prevent schools from becoming a prison-like setting.
Tomlinson told more than 50 teachers, parents and students that officials were increasing their efforts to improve safety and security in the school.
Tomlinson started the forum by telling those in attendance it will take a community effort to implement the correct safety measures for the students.
“We can’t do the job of keeping our buildings safe and secure without all of you,” Tomlinson said. “It takes all of us together to do that.”
Tomlinson also ensured parents at the event that safety measures are already in place across the district. There are safety and crisis committees in each district building, and a post-crisis committee for the district that is ready to react if an event ever does occur.
Tomlinson said these committees existed before the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newton, Conn., occurred. He said they hold regular meetings throughout the year, but he would like for them to meet more often.
Tomlinson said it became a priority of his to meet with these committees on a regular basis.
“We are not going to leave them alone,” Tomlinson said. “I told them you’re going to work harder on that committee than you have ever worked before.”
The district also will regularly participate in annual safety drills for all natural and manmade emergencies, he said.
Tomlinson said the district works closely with local law enforcement by conducting annual walkthroughs of each building within the district.
He told the crowd there are crisis plans in place already but that information can’t be released to the public because it would prevent the purpose, which is to ensure safety.
He also said the district is more vigilant in the main offices of every building about who is allowed access into the schools.
The district’s Director of Operations and Safety Mike Carney said the front entrance is the only official entry point during the day. Visitors must sign in with their reason for being in the building before being granted access.
Tomlinson added faculty can access the building through alternate entry points using swipe cards that log who entered the building at what time.
“I want to assure you that this is not just a reaction to what happened in Connecticut,” Carney said. “We have had emergency management plans in place in all of our buildings for 20 years.”
Tomlinson outlined a number of suggestions he has heard from community members and law enforcement since Sandy Hook including ideas of how the school can improve safety.
The suggestions included installing additional cameras, increasing visits from K-9 units, having buzz-in entry systems, installing metal detectors, hiring armed security guards, arming staff members with pepper spray, increasing the frequency of emergency drills, issuing students IDs and installing panic alarm buttons. Some also suggested more extreme measures, such as bricking over glass windows.
Tomlinson said the idea of having building or district armed guards will be an important topic for school officials in the coming months.
One concerned mother wanted to know what the school was doing about the mental health of students attending the school.
Tomlinson said the district has staff who note which students need special attention or counseling.
However, he said, it can create problems to do too much.
“It’s a challenge because you don’t want to be unfair to any one child,” Tomlinson said. “You have to be really careful not to profile; it is a slippery slope.”
Other suggestions mentioned by the audience were getting rid of routine events that have a predictability of when a mass number of people will be in the building and located in one section and creating a hotline that would allow the community to prove anonymous tips about potential dangers or concerns.
One concerned resident, R. Yvette Riley, said she attended a city school in New Jersey during the 1980s and having things like metal detectors and a security guard was normal and made the students feel safe.
“This may be a small town school, but it may be time for big city thoughts,” she said.
Tomlinson said over the next few months officials will consider what was discussed and decide what ideas to implement regarding safety.