Administration addresses school security
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Administration addresses school security

Mehul Shrivastava, Features Editor

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With recent events that have taken place in schools across the country, Westford Academy, as well as the entire school district in Westford, are looking to enhance school security to further ensure student safety. At a school committee meeting on Monday, March 12, Superintendent Bill Olsen, Principal Jim Antonelli, School Resource Officer Detective Geoffrey Pavao SRO, System Wide School Safety Coordinator Bob Ware, and Police Chief Thomas McEnaney came to discuss school violence with the community.

“There is probably not a better time to have a discussion about school safety than right now given the matters that have taken place across the country over the last fifteen years,” Olsen said.

Various precautions have either been taken or are in consideration to ensure a safer environment for students.

To start with, WA has decided that in the event of an active intruder, the school will go into ALICE and all those evacuating will go to either Crisafulli or Robinson. There, they will load buses that will take them to Stony Brook School to be reunited with their parents.

This procedure has been implemented in order to give emergency personnel from both Westford and surrounding towns the fastest and easiest possible access to the school. Both Olsen and Antonelli learned from the Sandy Hook shooting that it is much more difficult for first responders to reach the school when all the parents show up in the same location.

“All the parents came to a certain location [in Sandy Hook], and what happened was that there was no opportunities for emergency personnel to get on campus,” Antonelli said.

This information has been shared with parents through an email and with students over the morning announcements.

The next ALICE drill for the school is being planned for the spring, and Antonelli has upcoming meetings with the security committee and school committee regarding it. Antonelli’s goal is to have an ALICE drill every spring and fall.

Preparation and precaution for all situations have been recorded in an updated crisis management plan, whether it be a fire or armed intruder. It has easier instructions for quick access when needed.

Furthermore, according to Antonelli, Pavao has moved his office the main office area rather than the guidance area to have easier access to the front of the school. Antonelli emphasized that not everyone who enters the school unauthorized is automatically suspicious, but no chances will be taken. Furthermore, a few more school resource officers might be joining Westford Public Schools with the fiscal 2020 budget.

Some other security measures include the following: There will be higher entrance security, with doors being continually checked by fire and police department. Every CORI form is, and will continue to be, reviewed by Olsen. Both interior and exterior security cameras are regularly monitored, and also portable radios for administration that can contact law enforcement are accessible when they are needed.

An incident that occurred out of school over February break sparked concern in parents, students, and faculty. Three students were involved, and one spread a rumor about another having a gun. Antonelli expressed that he was not concerned as to whether the student actually had a gun, rather it was a poor decision on the student’s part, especially in the light of recent events. He believed a lot of time was used for administration and emergency personnel to follow protocol for no reason.

“If it was from one to ten, I would say it was a one, for me,and I’ve been here for twenty-one years and dealt with some pretty intense situations,”Antonelli said.

Parents were sent an email regarding the incident, but faculty was not able to receive the same information right away. Antonelli wants to work on getting students this type of information as well through Naviance and Remind.

“I think we’ve done a good job, not a great job, and I think we just have to continue to educate [and] communicate about our different activities and actions we are going to take should there be an active intruder situation,”Antonelli said.

Olsen talked about the importance of connection between students and teachers. He also listed some of the behavioral warning signs everyone should be looking out for such as changes in appearance and demeanor, aggressiveness, psychological distress, and especially social media presence.

The incident with the custodian at Crisafulli was heavily addressed, and Olsen expressed there were no warning signs of him being a dangerous individual until social media was checked.

The situation is now in the hands of the police department and the court, who have taken steps to assure that the custodian will not be returning to Westford, according to McEnaney. The police department as well as Olsen were in Crisafulli the next day to discuss security concerns.

“We want to reassure parents [and] kids, we’re there, we care, and we’ll do what we can to help you out,” McEnaney said.

Olsen mentioned that he needed the community to also be on the lookout for potential threats on social media, since administration cannot monitor all accounts.

“School safety doesn’t just rest with us. Yes, it’s our obligation, but we’ve got to have your help,” Olsen said.

Most importantly, Antonelli wants to promote more conversations between teachers and their students regarding what they would do in particular situations, such as active intruders.

“Curriculum is great. It’s terrific. But in this current situation, where we are right now, in this country, this is the most important conversation we can have,” Antonelli said.