Lenox School District eyes tighter security

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LENOX -- The town's school district is doubling down on consideration of enhanced emergency security and safety precautions, reflecting close ties with local police.

The current priority involves enhanced lockdown and evacuation scenarios at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, as outlined by Assistant Principal Brian Cogswell and Chief Stephen O'Brien during a School Committee presentation on Monday night.

Lockdown procedures at LMMHS, as well as Morris Elementary School, already include PA system announcements, classroom doors that lock from the inside and related precautions. Cogswell proposed the addition of exterior cameras at LMMHS as well as four interior cameras in hallways, though not in classrooms.

This past summer, Cogswell and O'Brien, along with Lenox Officers William Colvin and Michael Smith, attended a conference on the "ALICE" system of responses to an intruder -- alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate (http://www.alicetraining.com).

The school system has yet to adopt the evacuation procedures and countermeasures do not apply to the lower grades.

"Before, we were training that you need to get in a room," said O'Brien. "Now we're saying, ‘Get out any way you can.' You shouldn't be running into a classroom now, you should be trying to get out, unless you are in direct proximity of a happening."

The police chief also pointed out that those recommendations not only apply to schools but also to incidents that may occur at malls, movie theaters or other public spaces.

The conference at Taconic High School in Pittsfield, led by a certified ALICE instructor, also was attended by representatives from the Dalton and North Adams police and school departments, Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield, Mount Greylock Regional School District, and officials from Pittsfield, Sheffield and Williamstown.

Cogswell advocated adoption of the evacuation procedure -- "That's the big one ... everybody out, like in a fire drill." A smooth flow of information, he added, "is key to good decisions."

"We need to be able to use any and all available means, whether it's the PA system, text messages, ‘digital signage,' Web, Twitter, Facebook, whatever we need to do," he said.

"Our lockdown [policy] is a good starting point," Cogswell said, noting that some schools require locked doors at all times inside the schools. He said barricades would provide added protection against an intruder.

The ALICE strategy includes "noise, movement, distance, distractions, anything that can cause the ‘bad guy' to have a more difficult time reacting," he stated.

As Cogswell explained, "Our thought process is to not jump in totally with both feet, but to bring this forward with our faculty and staff, to talk about the evacuation procedures and the ‘inform' component [of ALICE] as well as to make sure that all our teachers and staff are informed if there happens to be an emergency of this kind."

"I know it's an unbelievably difficult thing to talk about," said Cogswell.

"But it's a reality," responded School Committee Chairman Don W. Fitzgerald.

The assistant principal agreed to keep the School Committee informed as the enhanced security measures are considered. O'Brien stressed the need for student and teacher "buy-in" following any committee approvals.

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"Personally, I would buy in," said Fitzgerald. "I've never understood entirely ‘hide and cower' as the only solution. There are others -- sometimes it's run away, sometimes it's do what you can to fight back. I understand the whole concept. It gives most people avenues for survivability, and we have to do these kinds of things, as sad as it is. It's unfortunate but true."

The recommendations outlined were based on strategies advocated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Education, the International Association of Police Chiefs and Gov. Deval Patrick's Task Force on School Safety and Security.

The School Committee on Monday also adopted a modified and updated "memorandum of understanding" with the police department, representing a written commitment to work together on safety measures.

"We exchange information and advise one another when we think there might be an unsafe situation or when students might be in danger or might be violating the law," explained interim school Superintendent Timothy Lee.

"We get the same level of commitment from the police department," he noted, listing some hypothetical examples. "We've identified some reportable incidents, for example, when there are suspected incidences of drug or alcohol use, when a felony is committed outside school grounds, incidents of bullying, or possession of a weapon. These are all times when the police department would share this information with the school department, and vice versa."

Lee noted that not all schools have a formal working relationship with local police. "I, for one, am glad that we do. It allows us to inform each other very well about possible risks to student safety, and to act proactively to those risks," he said.

To contact Clarence Fanto:

cfanto@yahoo.com

or (413) 637-2551.

On Twitter: @BE_cfanto

Help Wanted ...

The Lenox School Committee is seeking a new member because of a resignation for personal reasons. Interested citizens are invited to apply for the term expiring in May. The successful applicant could run for the position in the annual town election, if he or she chooses. Potential members are being sought who may be interested in serving the School Committee in an interim capacity or on a longer-term basis.

The position is aimed at town residents with an interest in promoting and sustaining the town's public schools. A commitment of about eight hours per month is typical, though additional time may be indicated with participation in subcommittees and other projects.

For questions or to send a letter of interest: Timothy Lee, Interim Superintendent, Lenox Public Schools, 6 Walker St., Lenox MA 01240 or (413) 637-5550.

Candidates are interviewed jointly by the School Committee and the Select Board.

Source: Lenox School Department


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