School safety at the forefront

By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Windsor Locks - posted Wed., Dec. 19, 2012
Police Chief Eric Osanitsch says the police keep constant dialogue with the schools in regards to safety. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Parents and children got ready for work and school on Dec. 17 pretty much like they do any other day of the week, but as parents dropped their children off at school or sent them on the bus, many gave them bigger hugs than normal. As they went about what they hoped would be a normal day, it was impossible not to think of the previous Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 students and six adults dead.

“It is very difficult to make sense out of senseless tragedy,” said Wayne Sweeney, Windsor Locks superintendent of schools. “It is going to take a long time for everyone to recover. The adults have been particularly hit hard, because we take seriously the charge that we have to take care of our children and students. Schools across this country are doing everything humanly possible, and we are in Windsor Locks, to ensure the safety of our kids - but when someone plans such an evil act, there aren’t many security measures that are going to stop it.”

School administrators and police officials meet regularly to review school policies and procedures in regard to school lockdowns and crisis situations, Sweeney said. They strive for constant dialogue to learn how to make the facilities better equipped and safer for the students and educators, knowing that the changes could one day save many lives.

“Obviously there has been a lot of apprehension by parents, school officials, and police since Friday,” said Windsor Locks Police Chief Eric Osanitsch. “Don’t forget, most officers are parents also, so whatever we can do to ensure the safety of the kids, we’re going to do.”

“Statistically, kids are extremely safe at schools,” he added, “but when you have something as horrific as what happened, it puts a spotlight on it and everyone is looking for answers.”

In light of the recent incident in Newtown, Windsor Locks police have increased their patrols at the schools and sat back down with school administrators to review their procedures. Osanitsch said that all current school policies and procedures in regard to lockdown drills and crisis situations are up to national standards.

Osanitsch noted that school officials and first responders in Newtown did everything they could possibly do. Likewise, local officers would respond immediately and do everything they can, he said, noting that “anytime children are involved, they are our number-one priority.” He believes that the tragic incident will raise many questions concerning mental health and school safety, and he added that there is a fine line in public buildings like schools because they are places of learning, not prisons.

Sweeney noted many of the safety precautions installed within the schools are to make them as safe as possible without making them seem like a fortress. He shared the precautions and information with parents at a meeting on Dec. 18 in the middle school auditorium. He informed concerned parents that all schools have video surveillance cameras on front doors that run and are recorded 24/7. The front doors also lock as soon as the last bus drops off the students and it requires a person to “buzz in” someone after that time. He noted that all doors in all the buildings have unobstructed views so that teachers and students would be able to see if something or someone was approaching.

The school does at least two lockdown drills a year, including one "code red" drill, and Sweeney believes that more drills will be run in the future alongside the police department, to practice regulations and ensure safety. He noted that all outside doors on the schools, which number between 200 and 300, are locked. The schools will begin closing and locking all inside doors in the hallways as an extra precaution, Sweeney said, adding that many keys are currently being made to make this new wrinkle in the plan effective immediately. All classrooms also have 9-1-1 access.

“There are a number of things currently in place, and we as adults need to make sure that we are doing all of these things, using the systems in place, and that’s in our control,” Sweeney said.

The schools will focus on better orientations to make sure that substitutes, staff and students know the procedures and precautions. The school is also currently switching to a picture identification door electronic system for staff. The district is also adding additional monitors for surveillance in administrative offices.

“At some point you have to decide what is an intellectual decision and what is an emotional decision,” Sweeney said. “Right now, it’s a very emotional time, so while we have identified additional issues, concerns and things that could be, we have to balance those with what makes sense.”

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