Dr. Kisiel, Chief Montminy discuss school safety

By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Wed., Jan. 16, 2013
Interim Superintendent of Schools Richard Kisiel presented the immediate actions taken by the district in response to Newtown, as well as actions for future consideration. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Richard Kisiel presented the immediate actions taken by the district in response to Newtown, as well as actions for future consideration. Photos by Christian Mysliwiec.

“The events that took place in Newtown on December 14th probably impaled all of our cherished notions and beliefs that elementary schools are still sanctuaries of safety and security,” said interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Richard Kisiel at the Manchester Board of Education's regular meeting, held Monday, Jan. 14, one month after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown cut short the lives of 20 students and six adults.

“Our schools are not military outposts,” said Kisiel, noting that it's not possible to absolutely guarantee the safety of all students with certainty. “But we can take reasonable action to improve communications, improve the structures and procedures designed to protect these students and employees as much as we can.”

Before the holiday break, Kisiel, administrators and school principals reexamined the safety measures and initiatives in place in Manchester, and suggested immediate action to improve on existing systems.

Kisiel presented the results of this examination in a report to the BOE. Several actions are currently in progress: the police department is preparing a safety and security assessment; schools are standardizing the emergency response template for the District's Crisis Management Plan; they are seeking approval of a proposed policy on Violence in the Workplace; and they are training new administrators in the use of the National Incident Management System (or NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS), as required by state law and by the Homeland Security Presidential Directive–5.

Schools are now required to have visitors sign in, identify themselves and the purpose of their visit, and wear a visitor identification badge. “This has not been consistent within the district,” said Kisiel “But it is now a requirement that all schools follow this procedure.”

Principals will also now ensure that all exterior and interior doors be locked. “This is not a request, this is a directive,” said Kisiel.
They will also establish a community task force to identify steps to further improve safety.

Manchester Police Chief Marc Montminy was also in attendance to discuss school safety. He began his presentation with a sobering fact. “This is a 60-page manual, presented by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Bureau of Justice Assistance on how to prevent school violence,” he said, holding up a thick booklet. “The reality is, in 60 pages, there is nothing in here about how to stop an individual with an assault rifle from getting into your school.”

However, he provided some encouraging insights about the Manchester Police Department's emergency readiness.

“Manchester Police Department has a sub-three minute response time to emergency calls,” Montminy said. “The nation-wide average is 18 minutes.” Emergency response to a school, he said, is closer to two minutes.

“We are 'active shooter trained,'” Montminy said. Years ago, many police departments in the country still followed the procedure which was unfortunately used at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, in which police secure the exterior and wait for the SWAT team to arrive. “Columbine taught police departments across the country a lesson: while you're waiting and securing the exterior, the gunman is often still inside the school on a rampage,” he said.

Departments changed this tactic in favor of “immediate confrontation.” “The quicker you engage the gunman, the quicker the violence stops,” said Montminy.

Montminy also said there are four school resource officers in Manchester, as well as a supervisor. Two SROs are located at Manchester High School, one covers both Manchester Regional Academy and Bentley School, and the fourth is at Illing Middle School. These officers provide on-scene deterrents, and could respond to other buildings if there was an incident at these schools, Montminy said. The SROs are also involved in school drill evaluations and make improvement recommendations.

Kisiel and the board will wait to receive the police department's safety and security assessment. The administration will also combine the recommendations presented by Kisiel with input from other educators and the public, which will be brought before a task force. This team will then present the recommendations to the BOE for possible approval. Kisiel said he expects the recommendations on the board's agenda no later than March 11.

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