East Lyme, Lyme-Old Lyme schools address parents' security concerns

In special meetings for parents and community members in East Lyme and Lyme-Old Lyme on Wednesday, school and town officials took the time to reassure parents of the schools' current and future safety plans and protocols following last week's shooting in Newtown.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, local school districts are responding with affirmations that their school buildings are safe and, in some cases, will be safer than before.

On Wednesday, school and board officials emphasized that they will continue to review security measures as time progresses.

Stacy Winchell, mother of an 8-year-old student at Center School in Old Lyme, said she came to the special Board of Education meeting to hear for herself what the Lyme-Old Lyme school district is doing in terms of providing a safe environment.

"I am concerned about security now. Old Lyme is a community much like Newtown, where everyone knows everyone. It's the beauty of a small town, but you just don't know anymore," Winchell said.

At Lyme-Old Lyme High School, there's a security camera system with a live video feed so those who have clearance to monitor it can do so from anywhere at any time, Superintendent of Schools Ian Neviaser said.

All Lyme-Old Lyme schools have the ability to make emergency intercom calls to and from the school buildings, and all school supervisory and custodial staff are given radios. On Dec. 5, the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education approved the purchase and installation of visitor access control systems which include video monitoring, locked entry doors and buzzer systems.

In East Lyme, beginning this week, visitors to the elementary and middle schools were required to use a security buzzer before entering. Personnel allowed visitors entry to the high school only after they were visually identified.

Superintendent James Lombardo also said security will be on the agenda of every upcoming school board meeting. Both superintendents said their district's schools participate in fire drills and lockdown drills more than once a year.

Already in place at Lyme-Old Lyme High School, the new security system is expected to be installed in all district schools by the end of January.

"We want to assure you tonight that this is not a knee-jerk reaction to the Newtown tragedy," Neviaser said. "We have procedures in place that existed prior to this incident that are well practiced, that are supported by national experts on school security and that have proven in this instance that they are not only a deterrent but can also help prevent further tragedy."

For the past five to six years, he said, the high school has employed two security officers who are former policemen. "They don't carry weapons, but they are well trained and have all the tools and techniques outside of a weapon to respond to an emergency," Neviaser said.

There aren't metal detectors at any of the Lyme-Old Lyme schools yet, but Neviaser said during the forum that "thinking outside the box" on school safety is a must.

Some parents in attendance in East Lyme asked administrators if the district would consider implementing new safety measures, including more frequent safety drills.

Tara Dowling, parent of a Niantic Center School student, suggested safety initiatives such as a "panic button" that teachers could press to alert authorities of threats.

"I think there are probably relatively inexpensive measures to alert authorities to come more quickly," she said.

Marc Antonino, a parent of two Niantic Center School students, asked if parents could begin fundraising to install new security measures rather than wait months for the 2013-14 budget to be passed.

Lombardo said the town could help expedite the process of securing funds for safety needs through the Boards of Selectmen and Finance.

Christopher Olsen, security director for East Lyme schools, stressed the importance of communication in helping detect potential threats. Making schools safe would not necessarily stem from a single safety measure, he said.

"What we do collectively - the community, schools, law enforcement - is how we're going to resolve it," he said.

j.hanckel@theday.com

k.drelich@theday.com

Local events in support of Newtown

• The West Side Middle School Student Council in Groton will be collecting donations to benefit the Sandy Hook School Support Fund, which has been established at Newtown Savings Bank in Newtown. Monetary donations will be accepted via mail at West Side Middle School, 250 Brandegee Ave., Groton, CT 06340. Donations can also be dropped off at the City of Groton Mayor's Office, at 295 Meridian St.
Anyone who wishes to donate directly to the bank may send donations to Sandy Hook School Support Fund, c/o Newtown Savings Bank, 39 Main St., Newtown, CT 06470.
• Old Lyme Emergency Medical Services will host a "Fill the Boot" drive from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday to raise money for the victims of the Newtown tragedy. The drive will be held near the Big Y supermarket on Halls Road.
• Monte Cristo Bookshop, at 13 Washington St., New London, is a drop-off location for Books for Sandy Hook. New books, teddy bears and toys for children are being collected. The bookstore is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has declared 6 p.m. Sunday the time for a statewide vigil. Locally, at least three vigils are scheduled:
• A community vigil, hosted by the Stonington Community Center, is scheduled at Owens Field. The vigil will include words of encouragement, prayer and song, according to a release by the COMO.
• A vigil at the McCook Point Park pavilion in East Lyme will also include an opportunity to donate to Newtown victims and survivors.
• An interdenominational vigil is scheduled at the Waterford High School auditorium, at 20 Rope Ferry Road in Waterford.

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