SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 24, 2014

Speliotis picked for statewide school safety task force

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — DANVERS — House Speaker Robert DeLeo has tapped state Rep. Ted Speliotis to serve on Gov. Deval Patrick’s newly created Task Force on School Safety and Security, citing the Danvers lawmaker’s work in the days after the death of a Danvers High teacher in October.

Patrick has tasked the school safety task force with coming up with model safety and security plans that districts across the state can use to make schools safer. It will be co-chaired by Secretary of Education Matthew Malone, the former Swampscott and Brockton superintendent; Secretary of Public Safety and Security Andrea Cabral; and Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz.

“I assume he chose me because I am part of his leadership team,” said Speliotis, a Democrat who represents Danvers, West Peabody and a portion of Middleton.

But he said another factor is the perspective on school violence that he can bring following the slaying of math teacher Colleen Ritzer on Oct. 22, allegedly at the hands of a 14-year-old student.

In the days following the murder, Speliotis was at the high school and worked closely with town and school officials. He saw firsthand “how an event like that has an impact on a community,” said School Committee Chairman Eric Crane, who called Speliotis “the right person for the job.”

“What’s occurred with Colleen Ritzer has hit everyone across the state,” Speliotis said.

While a lot of school safety planning has focused on student-to-student incidents, Speliotis said an important aspect will be heading off violence directed at teachers and staff.

Speliotis taught in Danvers at the start of his career in the late 1970s and worked in government affairs at Northeastern University. When he was teaching, he never thought he had anything to fear from his students, he said.

Speliotis said he was impressed by the response by Danvers school and town officials to the Ritzer murder.

“In my mind, they were prepared because they were part of NEMLEC (North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council),” said Speliotis, who praised the agency’s expertise in handling such traumatic situations. “I was very impressed by them and what went on.”

An important aspect of the task force’s work will be to find ways to head off school violence, rather than react to it. One way might be to address what may be going on in the lives of young men, Speliotis said.

Speliotis said in the near future, a forum with the Danvers School Committee might be a way to get the community’s view on the issue. Crane said a forum on school safety might make sense, though the timing would have to be right.

Danvers has had a school safety plan in place for years, and it is reviewed each year with police and fire officials. The information Danvers might provide Speliotis about its emergency planning efforts “may help other communities,” Crane said.

The state task force is expected to report its findings by the end of the summer in time for the upcoming school year.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.