December 20, 2012

Yarmouth unveils recent efforts to upgrade safety at its schools

A meeting on the issue, scheduled before the Connecticut shootings, now has added significance.

By Matt Byrne mbyrne@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)