East Lyme — Each student at East Lyme High School will have his or her backpack searched this morning, and a metal detecting wand will be used in certain cases as students end a "stressful" week, Superintendent of Schools James Lombardo said.
The decision was made Thursday and announced over the loudspeaker, Lombardo said, and a note went home to parents. No direct threat has been made to the school district, but with the Newtown shooting last week and talk of the "end of the world" tomorrow, Lombardo said "we want students to feel as secure as possible."
"The purpose of the search is not that we're looking for something specific. We want kids to know we're doing all we can to ensure safety and security," Lombardo said. "Everyone has a heightened sense of vigilance, and I'm sure it will continue for months to come."
Rumors of threatened school violence have "spread like wildfire" on the Internet since the Newtown shooting, Lombardo said. He said he heard from a colleague in Michigan who reported that 33 schools there plan to be closed today because of predictions for the end of the world based on the conclusion of the Mayan calendar.
Since Monday, Lombardo said all schools have utilized a buzzer system at the front doors. All visitors must be visually identified, and security personnel is standing by the front doors, he said. East Lyme police officers have been commonplace at each school, too, a practice that will "continue until further notice," he said.
Thursday's announcement of security precautions came after more than 100 people attended a community meeting Wednesday to discuss school safety.
"Two days ago, I sat with a group of first-graders at lunch in one of our elementary schools," Lombardo wrote in a letter that was sent home to parents and posted on the district website. "They told me all about their lunches, their names, their pets and their dolls. The topic soon shifted to the upcoming holidays. One little girl told me that on Christmas Eve she and her sister listen for 'creaks in the attic,' because then they know Santa is coming. They reminded me of their innocence and how hard we all try as educators to shield them from all that would take that away. East Lyme has wonderful children, and all of us who work in East Lyme schools know how lucky we are to know them."
While the week has been stressful, Lombardo said the district had good news to report. A three-day fundraiser in East Lyme for Newtown schools raised close to $6,000, he said. That money will be sent to the district for use "as they see fit."