Grafton's Superintendent on Safety: 'We Could Do More'

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Superintendent James Cummings is assessing the district's building safety program.
Superintendent James Cummings is assessing the district's building safety program. Photo Credit: Richard Price file photo

GRAFTON,Mass.—Superintendent of Schools James E. Cummings said all school properties will improve their safety program in reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

On Friday afternoon Adam Lanza, 20,  breached security at the Connecticut elementary school and gunned down 20 students ages 6 and 7, plus six school staff.

On Monday morning, teachers and administrators from each Grafton public school building met to discuss their existing safety protocol and how they can improve it.

“We will have more discussion, more awareness, and stress the importance of training staff, students and communicating things that seem out of place,” said Cummings.

In a newsletter to parents sent Monday, Cummings said all the school buildings have a comprehensive safety and emergency plan in place.

“At each of our schools we have locked facilities, each with buzzer entry systems.  The police do a very good job in working with the schools already, but they will be even more visible this week.”

But Cummings also said the schools could do more to protect each child inside.

“An assessment of our existing security measures and opportunities for improvement is taking place right now,” he said in the newsletter.  “We are working with the police department to assess our existing strengths and needs.”

Sunday night President Barack Obama said, in a nationally televised speech from Newtown, Conn., that he promised to do what he can from a federal level.  “These tragedies must end,”  he said adding more must be done to protect school children and that the country failed to protect their young.

Cummings said the school system can do more with locks, school ground awareness, and video as well as establishing better communication between students, teachers and administrators.

A locksmith will be visiting each building to assess the cost of installing classroom door locks that can be locked from the inside.* The schools will also institute new sign in procedures for visitors.

Cummings has also been in touch with Grafton Police Chief Normand A. Crepeau to assess each building’s strengths and weaknesses.

Cummings also reported that grief counselors are available “on call” as needed to students, parents, or teachers. He said a more explicit conversation will occur on the higher grade levels.  On the lower grade levels, the support will be more implicit, designed  for those students who possess a greater awareness of what happened on Friday.

*Note: This story has been updated from the initial post to clarify that the locks are not deadbolts. 

Attached: (cummings_letter.pdf)

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Comments (11)

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Frank Ng

While responding to an article is good, there really needs to be some means for comments to get to the ears of those who could actually do something about it. Maybe someone with the ear of the superintendent can suggest there being some sort of email set up, for the sole purpose of offering up suggestions that could be considered, to try and make our schools safer, or rather, more secure against something as unimaginable but just as real as what happened in CT.

I thought about this, and while the initial knee-jerk reaction was to do something about gun control, the issue isn't that. The guns used in this tragedy were obtained legally and through proper means, so a more stringent gun law probably would not have had much effect. Those who are sick will find a way to obtain the weapon they choose to use. The issue I think is the overall security of the schools, which yes, they are public buildings, but I wholly disagree that the public has any right to just walk into these spaces during school/business hours. One person commented about the buzzer system, that they can get buzzed in without anyone actually seeing them, and further, noone is there to meet that person being buzzed in. I know the design of these schools, which I have been through them as a student, when you go in through the front door, you are in lobbies, not a secure check point. So even with video technology allowing someone to be seen, there is still this gap between where the person enters, and where staff and that office is located. There is plenty of space and opportunity at that point for someone to go elsewhere and do whatever.

Listening to late night radio, some caller was saying he didn't want police or security at the entrance, citing it turning into 'a police state' and remembering how things used to be. Things are not that way anymore, and the schools need to be looked at not only as a safe place for students to be, which they are, but a secure space, which they are not. The comparison made on the radio was to a nightclub with bouncers...nightclubs hire bouncers to manage who gets in, who stays out, and deal with any trouble in and around the premise. They keep the nightclub safe. So why then do we not have something like this for the schools. Have someone posted at the only entrance point to the school, so that someone can't get in without a valid, proven reason, without an appointment, or without some valid reason to be there. It doesn't need to be a booth, could just be a desk with someone at it, but there needs to be that person that can manage who comes in at the point where they do come in. If the person entering the building starts to cause any issue, it is that person that can deal with it and be the person to get the police there if necessary.

The classrooms, they need to be more secure, in that if there is a situation, the door can be secured from inside easily and quickly, and so noone can break their way in. Mind you, anyone outside could break their way in through the glass, but this is a situation where every scenario needs to be addressed. Also, any door that can be secured has to also be able to be opened quickly in the event that the people in the room can escape if the opportunity presents itself (say if the topic of electronic locking doors came up).

The school grounds need to also be considered for securing, which most schools, the ground are open to the neighbors and woods and parking, so if someone wanted to, they could walk through the woods and gain access to those areas. I don't want it to look like a prison, and I don't know if we can address all potential risks, but all potential risks at least need to be acknowledged.

Maybe there are grants out there that can be applied for and used, though with all the talk of the fiscal cliff, I don't know if there will be any money left for anyone to give out. Maybe we look to the community and businesses to offer what they can to help make the schools our kids go to safer. Call it investing in the town's future. The point is that the town should rally for this, rather than pass it off and rally when a tragedy happens, when the time to do anything is too late.

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In 2007, a school district in Harrold, Texas, made a controversial decision. It allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons on school grounds to protect students against potential shooters. [Related: Scenes from Newtown, Connecticut] Now, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary attack in Newtown, Conn., that left 28 dead including 20 children and the [...]

If the situation is at the point where the teacher is engaging an assailant with a gun in their classroom, then it is already too late. At that point, there is an assailant and a teacher, both with guns, in a room with students. If the assailant is a better shot than the teacher, that teacher will be killed, and the classroom of students without guns vulnerable to whatever that assailant may have in mind. Most of these articles going about are for guns and the benefits of citizens being armed, assuming that any assailant will react in a certain way, based on the fear of someone else shooting them. I always learned that if you have and point a gun, you better have the intention of shooting that person to kill, and I really wonder how many people are capable of making that decision. I am not opposed to guns, and I do not feel that more stringent gun laws will make much difference, because there are ways someone can gain access to those weapons illegally should they choose. They are going to commit violence and murder, I doubt they give a toss about legally obtaining their gun. If the buildings are more secure, so they can never get to the point where they are engaging a classroom full of kids, I think that is the goal schools need to get to rather than creating an internal militia against crazy people with weapons.

There is no video camera in use at the 2 Grafton elementary schools I access to volunteer. I ring the buzzer and someone buzzes me in without actually seeing who I am. This has caused me great concern for years. Also, I bearly get seen while I am signing in and grabbing a badge to wear. We need either a security guard at these schools or a person actually sitting at the desk that you sign in at. And how about asking for an ID? Unless you know the person's name, ask for an ID. I feel safer at the grocery store.

Certainly, security and gun control are major factors in addressing the problem, but let's see the same attention and energies applied to the issue of mental health.

Are we really doing everything we can to identify and reach out to students, individuals and families dealing with mental health issues? What active programs do we have that connect families with programs and professionals? Where do families begin? Where do communities begin? Do they exist, how many people even know about them? What conversations and supports are taking place?

It is a lonely, complicated road for many families (emotionally, financially, socially). Removing the stigmas that come with 'needing help' is one of the first steps.

Additionally, budget cuts (on a local, state and federal level) to any mental health program should be off the table until this national issue is solved.

CT was a tremendous tragedy but their school already had a buzzer system, a sign in process, safety contingency plans etc and that did not stop the attack from occurring.

Deadbolts in the doors wont stop someone from breaking the glass in the door or adjacent to the door or stop someone from entering the classrooms through an outside window by simply breaking the glass.

There is definitely a need for additional security measures, but lets make sure we are spending towards measures that will work, not merely things that give off a false sense of security.

When a school goes into lock down the classrooms should be completely secure. Can a shooter with an assault weapon get through a locked wooden door? Probably. lets look at security doors for each classroom or a means of escape. NGES have classroom exit doors, teach the kids to get out of the school during the lockdown drills instead of hovering in the corner with the shades pulled down.

I'm guessing it may be that many of the classroom doors have windows and if the window in the door is smashed, a hand could reach in & undo the throw bolt.

let's be clear here - I'm thinking we're talking single sided deadbolts with a key on only one side. I don't even think double keyed deadbolts are legal anymore due to fire code. And then, how many keys would you need, and then, how did the shooter (I refuse to say his name) get into the school in the first place - right, he shot is way in. Deadbolts are not the answer

'locksmith', 'deadbolts'.... all very expensive words - dont' get me wrong, I'm all for security, but also for practicality - what's wrong with throw bolts/barrel bolts installed by our maint. workers? No keys, and pretty close to just as secure. Is this to istall deadbolts on each classroom door? There must be 50 doors that will have to be done at each elementary school - at probably over $100 each. I hear ya already - "$5000 is nothing if it saves one child". I get it... but barrel bolts will do the same thing for $20 a door, and could be done tomorrow by maint. at the schools