SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 7, 2013

Local schools say they're committed to safety

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — School officials in Ipswich are looking into installing security cameras at the town’s elementary schools in the wake of last month’s fatal shooting of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

While student safety is considered one of the highest priorities in schools, the tragedy has sparked discussions about security measures in many North Shore school districts.

“We are constantly re-evaluating our practices and procedures,” Ipswich Superintendent Richard Korb said.

Korb said the district is working on getting price quotes for installing cameras at the elementary schools and new buzzer entry systems with cameras at all the schools. Security cameras were installed at the high and middle schools over the summer, he said.

Police have increased their visibility at the schools, which are now part of daily patrols, Korb said.

Korb said he has met with police, principals and other school staff to address any recommendations for security. A full list of proposed security recommendations will be made at the School Committee meeting on Thursday, he said.

Like Ipswich, many local schools had an increased police presence as students returned to school from vacation.

Peabody Superintendent Joseph Mastrocola said there have been no major changes to security in the district except for an increased presence of police at all schools in the city. It is unknown how long the police presence will last, he said.

“We never stop talking about safety,” he said.

Mastrocola said the city schools had strong plans in place in conjunction with the Police Department before the tragic shooting, but each school has gone through a comprehensive safety assessment of all crisis plans since then.

“I think it is just vigilance and making sure we make any changes that come through our assessments,” he said, noting that all schools went through lockdown drills this fall. The schools have been in touch with parents, he said.

He said further discussions will be held on whether all Peabody students should be required to wear identification badges.

In Salem, Superintendent Stephen Russell said the shooting served as a wake-up call for his district and they are working on developing lockdown or “intruder in the building” procedures.

Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon, who serves on the School Committee, said there have been significant discussions with school administrators and the committee in regards to security at the schools. All safety procedures have been reviewed, he said.

“For the most part, we believe our security measures are appropriate,” he said.

Arthur Skarmeas, chairman of the Danvers School Committee, said school administrators met with police shortly after the tragedy to review policy. The School Department takes security very seriously, he said.

A subcommittee of School Committee members have also scheduled a meeting for later this month.

“We are going to review the policy and see if there is anything we can tighten up and make sure current policy is being followed as well as possible,” he said.