Safety is renewed focus of schools in the region

Dozens of parents, teachers and residents gathered in the auditorium of Old Saybrook Senior High School Sunday night for a community forum on improving school safety.

First Selectman Carl Fortuna Jr., Police Chief Michael Spera, Director of Youth and Family Services Heather McNeil and Superintendent of Schools Heston Sutman each addressed the crowd, their words shifting from the mournful to the practical. The forum followed a candlelight vigil at the Old Saybrook Volunteer Fire Company.

Sutman said any action plan based on suggestions throughout the evening would be the result of a long-term and "thoughtful" process. That plan will eventually be shared with residents, he said.

Fortuna said he and the three other officials were looking to address student safety, how to cope in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and the "practicalities" of returning to school the next day.

Similar conversations are being held throughout the state. And when students return to school this morning many of them will be greeted by policemen and will have access to counselors if needed.

Pamela Aubin, the Montville superintendent of schools, said the district has coordinated with the town's police department to heighten security in the town's schools. Counselors and school psychologists will be available to help answer any student questions.

She said the district will expedite the installation of new security cameras at the Leonard J. Tyl Middle School. Aubin also commended the actions of teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and she said many of their quick reactions may have spared more deaths. The massacre could eventually help guide updates to the school district's security procedures.

"I'm sure we can learn even additional lessons on how they proceeded," Aubin said.

Salem Superintendent of Schools Joseph Onofrio II said the town will again today post a police officer outside of the Salem School, which is for elementary and middle school students. Onofrio said counselors will also be available to speak with students. It's the faculty's aim to acknowledge the Newtown shootings while also maintaining normalcy.

"We want to give them a sense of normal and typical routine so they feel safe," he said.

Stonington Board of Education Chairwoman Gail MacDonald said she traded emails over the weekend with many other school board members throughout the state. Many raised the suggestion of schools hiring a consultant to perform a "security audit," in which they grade and critique school security.

While MacDonald said the idea would be something for the board to discuss, she also acknowledged that more security may not have prevented the Newtown massacre.

"In our grief we look for something to do and some kind of positive that will grow out of these kind of horrific actions," MacDonald said. "The reality is I'm not sure anything would have prevented what happened there."

Meanwhile, Stonington police said they would have additional police officers going in and out of the schools for the immediate future. Police and school officials began reviewing security procedures at all the schools on Friday and plan to continue those discussions this week.

In Lyme-Old Lyme, Superintendent of Schools Ian Neviaser sent an email to parents Sunday telling them at the school systems security practices are regularly reviewed and will be examined with extra attention in light of the tragedy in Newtown.

He said that on Dec. 5 the Board of Education approved the purchase and installation of visitor access control systems, which include video monitoring, locked entry doors and buzzer systems. He said the system is already in place at the high school it will be installed in all the district's buildings in the coming weeks.

In addition state and local police will provide extra security at all of the schools today.

At the meeting in Old Saybrook, Police Chief Spera said the evening was meant to be a constructive experience.

jeff.johnson@theday.com

a.isaacs@theday.com

Editor's note: This version corrects an earlier version.

More from local schools

A vigil to remember those who died in the Newton school tragedy will be held Monday at 7 p.m. on the Fitch High School football field in Groton. Residents are asked to bring a candle to show their support for those affected by the shootings. In the event of inclement weather, the vigil will be held in the high school auditorium. For more information, call the Town Manager's Office at 860-441-6633.

In Lyme and Old Lyme the Board of Education, Region 18 administration, the resident trooper's office, and the town officials will meet Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Lyme-Old High School to discuss the impact that this tragedy has had and will have on the school system.

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