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Letter: School safety enhancements still in process

By Mike Lyons

Chairman, Board of Education

To the Editor:

NORWALK, Conn. — It is unfortunate that the apparently false alarm about gunfire at Cranbury School occurred before our new safety / security program could be fully implemented. The plan was explained to our teachers at their convocation last week, and each of our schools is appointing a school safety committee. The committees are charged with adapting the general safety program to their particular schools by the beginning of October.

However, the good news is that the school staff, students and police at Cranbury followed the general procedures mandated for all our schools beautifully. Under the new plan, the school administration, when initiating a lockdown, calls the Police Department directly and coordinates with them before notifying the central office. The staff and students at Cranbury did everything they were expected to, and the police response was fast and massive.

Needless to say, our first priority in implementing the new safety plan has been to see to it that the kids are safe and that the police response is as vigorous as possible – and Cranbury proved that this objective has been achieved.

A next priority objective is communication with parents about events such as this. I met with Superintendent (Manny) Rivera on Friday morning to go over a variety of items, and this school safety topic was the first item on our agenda. Although plans are already under way to use the Reverse 911 system, we agreed that, with ‘smart phones’ possessed almost universally now, we are assigning our new chief of technology, innovation and partnerships, Ralph Valenzisi, the job of instituting a text-message alert system to get messages out to parents at affected schools quickly. This is commonplace on college campuses now, and would be an improvement over the current, slower systems. In the case of the event at Cranbury, a text to parents along these lines would have been helpful: “Alert: As a precautionary measure the Cranbury school has been put on lockdown as police are investigating suspicious activity in the vicinity. There is no immediate danger and the school building is secure. For your child’s safety, no one is being allowed entry or exit from the building until the police give the ‘all clear’ sign. You will not be able to enter the school campus until authorized by the police, so please avoid the area; we appreciate your allowing the police the room and space needed to conclude their investigation. We will notify you of further developments.” A follow-up message would then have been sent when the lockdown ended.

The need for a messaging system like this was made clear by the well-meaning but risky actions taken by some Cranbury parents. According to the police, when Cranbury parents started arriving at the school after news reports appeared and were told by the police to stay back and that the building was locked down, some parents actually walked through the woods (that the police were searching for a possible shooter) to try to bypass the police and get into the school. They are fortunate that they were not mistaken by the officers for a shooter. Hopefully a quick messaging system will keep all parents informed, and also discourage others from taking risky steps on their own.

Although we already have telephone numbers for R-911 calls, we will need to survey parents at all our schools to find their preferred method of being contacted (text, email, phone), and then set up the database so only parents from the affected school(s) are notified in the event of future incidents.

 

There are many more steps to be taken, of course. We are having all of our schools audited by the Police Department for security issues (about two thirds of the school audits have been completed), and the job of the individual schools’ safety committees is to identify particular issues that need addressing at each school. Our overall safety committee is also looking at physical improvements to school buildings, new security hardware and software, etc., to work into our plans going forward. Obviously we can’t get these all done at once, but they are being planned and developed as we speak.

Improved communications with parents is a high priority for the board and Superintendent Rivera; adding a communications director was a key component of Dr. Rivera’s reorganization plan approved by the board two weeks ago. We intend to improve communications across the board, with everything from televising of Board of Education meetings to text messaging regarding school emergencies.

We should all be pleased with the performance of Cranbury School’s and the Police Department in keeping our kids safe this week. We will continue our efforts to make sure their parents get the most up to date information available when emergencies of any kind arise.

 

Mike Lyons

Comments

4 responses to “Letter: School safety enhancements still in process”

  1. spanner

    Thanks Mike maybe some confusion was created among parents when we were told the second lockdown was put in place.Made some wonder why the first one was lifted if that was the mis communication factor without the ROBO call?It could be also it never transpired like that leaving the questions we all have.Who was on first?

    Not you or your organization was involved but wasn’t the system we hooked onto as a city good en enough? current, slower systems as opposed to what?We were told this system for the money was a good one has that changed?

    We always got the Mayor on ROBO calls when it wasn’t as important as this.

    Mike maybe you can be of some help seems once in a while when alarms come in from schools the police dept is unable to get anyone to come and check the schools. That has been a running problem in Norwalk for years.I thank you for stepping up to the plate and doing damage control but what about ongoing problems the police dept has withn the school dept?From what has been said the police dept only has an alarm company phone number no one from the school dept why is that if true?

    We all look forewood to this plan trusting it includes busses as well,Sal had more than enough problems sifting thru the crap when it came to protecting his students in a timely manner whenever there was a shooting or incident at our schools or on school busses.

    Bear in mind the trouble at the city bus depot and the train stations involving students has always been a problem but now with the time its taken we will all feel better once the plan is in place and has made all depts and city hall accountable.

    I guess we all can be thankful over the years no one has been hurt the last few lockdowns that were not apparently false alarms like Flax Hill where a long rifle was involved and the actual shooting at another school the third was not at the school but feet from the front door makes us all wonder how long will it be until we all feel our kids are safe?

    While I’m at it anyone in the school dept who can teach Spanish to some of our first reponders?Stamford paid money as in most cities to make sure the first responders know what the victims are telling them.Maybe that can be on the to do list.

    If an audit was done what solutions are now in place when a school has an alarm are we now to understand the school will start answering its phone during emergencies?That would be a first after hours according to some officers who sit and wait to be told no one is coming.I wonder if this is on Rillings to do list it was his problem for years just ask him.

  2. Tim T

    No Mike what is unfortunate is it has taken almost a year for the new safety procedures and they are still not in place. It must not be a priority. What is also unfortunate is that they were designed by the failure of the NPD.

  3. Tim T, many of the procedures ARE in place, but they are not ALL in place. As with everything else we’re working on, we have budget limitations to deal with that require programs to be phased in. I thought the police response at Cranbury was excellent; where we need immediate improvement (which is a priority for Dr. Rivera) is communications. I would also note that the Police have added three additional school resource officers (police officers dedicated to school security) to the force this year, and they went on duty on the first day of school.

  4. spanner

    Thankyou again Mike for taking the time to ensure Tim the BOE is working on it.hate to add anything else to our plate but the service paln for Radon removal has never been seen and Norwalk and is well overdue in making sure the effected schols with children with small lung capacities are safe from a danger not seen or heard.This was an issue that will never go away and funds for that must be put aside to do the work to ensure there is no danger to our CHILDREN.I can use my cap button as well.Some of the work was done by Norwalks own within the school system leaving some of us parents wondering if it was done right testing at this point should of been done twice since the work was done(mandatory).In the past leaving the windows open in the middle of winter was the best way to combat such a problem but with fuel the way it is taking the proper remediation is now the way to go for the budget and yes our children and teachers who spend a lot of time in effected areas found in the past.

    Now that my laundry list was given it won’t be hard to verify correct and go on,its been at least a decade for Norwalk to work on this problem.I’m sure as we approach election time some of these issues may come up and with such a workload having a heads up on safety issues is a plus sounds like your involvemnet is also a plus it lets us all know what hasn’t been done but on the plate.Report cards for the members of the BOE is long overdue I think.

    Response was in all of our opinions was great it wouldn’t of been the first time such an incident transpired in or around our schools we have great police officers and fire they were there also I assume in case they were needed.I didn’t see any fire trucks then again the public isn’t always privy to why the fire dept should of been there.

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