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Ledyard school security steps outlined in forum at middle school

By Anna Isaacs

Publication: The Day

Published January 11. 2013 4:00AM

Ledyard - More than 100 parents and school community members gathered in the Ledyard Middle School auditorium for a presentation on school safety and security Thursday night.

Superintendent Mike Graner, along with Gales Ferry Fire Chief Tony Saccone, Director of Maintenance Sam Kilpatrick and Lt. Mike Finkelstein, led the presentation, listing security measures and procedures already in place in the school district and laying out plans and ideas for the future.

The presentation comes after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last month that killed 20 students, an event that has spurred schools across the state and the nation to review their safety and security systems and address parent, staff and student concerns.

"We have all been traumatized by this tragedy," Graner told those in attendance Thursday night.

Graner listed the measures the schools in town already use - a buzzer system that has been in place since the fall of 2008, the policy of almost universally locked exterior doors, the issuing of security badges to staff and faculty members and various emergency safety drills and lockdown procedures.

Since the Sandy Hook shooting, Graner said school officials have further limited the amount of time the front doors are open and unattended, and have placed staff at the front doors during periods of high traffic during school hours.

In the immediate future, Graner said officials will look to make a number of changes, including standardizing a visitor sign-in procedure across the school district, issuing new badges to faculty and staff and collecting old ones, providing substitute teachers and volunteers with badges, reviewing emergency drill and lockdown procedures with the town's public safety departments and replacing aging security cameras in place.

The school district's insurance company, in conjunction with a state police consultant, town police, town fire departments and the mayor's office, will be creating a comprehensive building security assessment to identify any issues with the schools. Graner said he will also conduct a survey of staff, students and parents to solicit feedback that will be reported to the town's school security committee.

Graner also said he has discussed the possibility of the state's reinstating funds for school resource officers. The Ledyard school district does not have such an officer in its schools now.

One larger project Kilpatrick said is already under way will install interior locks on all classroom doors, which all lock from the outside. During a lockdown procedure, teachers now have to walk out into the hallway and lock the doors from the outside before returning inside the classrooms and shutting the doors.

Until all new interior locks are installed, Graner said teachers will now be required to lock their doors from the outside and keep them open; that way, during a lockdown procedure, teachers can simply close the door without going out into the hallway.

Lt. Finkelstein said the police department will be standardizing the materials available in police vehicles in town, including providing school floor plans and security procedures to officers.

About halfway through the presentation, Ledyard Middle School Principal Greg Keith led a tour of the middle school for interested parents. The middle school, which was built in the early 1970s, uses an outdated model of clustered, open classrooms with no interior walls, which has proved not only disruptive to classroom learning but also poses a safety hazard: Any lockdown procedure still gives an intruder access to about 80 percent of the students in the school, with no walls or doors in the way.

Many were already familiar with this layout, but others expressed shock and concern for their children's safety.

Graner explained afterward that a renovation plan for the middle school has been in the works for the past year - one that would, among other updates, build traditional four-walled classrooms within the existing structure of the school.

In the meantime, Keith said the school does not hold lockdown drills in order to avoid reminding students in those classrooms that there is no safe place to hide there.

"I think this building is a huge security flaw for us, and we need to address it," Graner said.

Graner said the renovation proposal should be ready in time for the May town budget referendum, and would then go to the state legislature, which could take up to a year to approve the project. It would take several years after that for the project to be completed, he said.

While some praised Graner for the steps taken so far, several parents complained that he had not provided enough specifics. One called the presentation "wishy-washy."

Others referred to an incident that occurred the week after the Sandy Hook shooting in which a bullet was found on the floor of a fourth-grade classroom at Ledyard Center School. Graner neglected to inform parents of the incident, which is still under investigation, until several days after it took place.

Graner said principals from all of Ledyard's schools will be updating parents on their individual security procedures, and a letter will be sent home to parents addressing all the points brought up at Thursday night's presentation.

a.isaacs@theday.com

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