Thursday, June 20, 2013
YARMOUTH — Dozens of parents, faces etched with concern, gathered Wednesday to hear Superintendent Judy Paolucci detail an extensive effort to bolster school safety in Yarmouth.
The meeting was scheduled before the shootings last week at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., left 28 people dead, including 20 children.
But the attack added poignancy to the discussion, in one of countless school districts across the nation that are re-evaluating their emergency preparedness.
“We can’t simply say it can’t happen in Yarmouth,” said Paolucci in an interview before the meeting. “Yarmouth is not that much different from Newtown. We need to manage all of our risks.”
For more than 16 months, school, police and fire officials worked with Atlanta-based Safe Havens International, a nonprofit school safety consultant, to evaluate weaknesses in the Yarmouth school system and craft an extensive safety plan. The effort was funded by a $50,000 federal grant that was matched by the district.
From building keys, phone systems and door locks to the wider strategy for lockdown drills and risk management, planners devised ways to be ready, Paolucci said.
In the past, keys to school buildings were circulated among trusted community members, some of whom were not affiliated with the schools.
Now, there are tighter controls, including an electronic key system that allows administrators to “turn off” a single key’s functionality.
Parents, who sat rapt as Paolucci and Police Chief Michael Morrill explained the detailed process, had questions.
Amy Armstrong said she works at Gorham Savings Bank, where biannual robbery training is mandatory for all employees. She suggested a similar regimen for teachers.
Armstrong said she was shocked when she learned how open Yarmouth’s school campuses can be.
“When I realized that your elementary (classroom) doors didn’t even lock, I gasped,” she said. “You need a checklist.”
But not every safety measure is about preventing an “active shooter” threat.
“If we have a skunk in the building we should have a lockdown,” Armstrong said, in a lighter moment in the meeting. “There’s lots of reasons why it’s safer to be in your room and locked.”
One of the sharper criticisms came from Nadine Weinberg, who described a recent morning when she walked into Yarmouth High School and the staff and teachers never scrutinized her presence.
“Not a single person said a word to me,” Weinberg said.
It was a point that Paolucci quickly conceded.
When she was hired in Yarmouth in 2009, Paolucci said, she was surprised by the open access to school buildings in Yarmouth and expressed a desire to tighten control of visitors.
“Students here have more freedom,” Paolucci said. “You always have to balance those two pieces.”
Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at: