Our Opinion: Safer schools in a troubled time

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Pittsfield, the central city in the largely rural Berkshires, is an urban community with all the challenges that entails. Some of those challenges are reflected in the schools, where students, teachers and faculty must deal with societal issues that plague many schools across the state and nation.

A recent incident at Reid Middle School in which a student began acting violently prompted Steve and April White, whose son attends the school, to start a petition drive calling for a full-time school resource officer at the school. ("Pittsfield leaders work to fill Reid resource officer position amid community pushback." Eagle, Jan. 22.) A school resource officer resigned last September, one of five police officers to leave the department in a short time, leaving the Police Department shorthanded. Different police officers will be rotated through the school in most of the days ahead, but a permanent resource officer who gets to know the school and the students is ideal. New Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio has filed a petition with the City Council seeking a permanent solution.

A recent lockdown at Pittsfield caused by two "agitated students" has prompted calls for better communications during lockdowns and the hiring of another full-time school adjustment counselor. Members of the school's Peace Jam Club and Marie Butler, a student representative to the Pittsfield School Committee, spoke about their concerns before the School Committee last week. ("After PHS lockdown, calls for new policy," Eagle, Jan. 27.) Schools Superintendent Jason McCandless told the students that their concerns mirror those of administrators throughout the school district.

Financing, of course, is always an issue, but the superintendent indicated that an anticipated funding increase for city schools around the state included in the governor's budget could be a resource. The budget, of course, must still go through the legislative process. Mr. McCandless said that ways of keeping students and teachers informed during lockdowns would be explored.

On Monday, a warning received by BCC that someone might bring a gun to the campus that day put law enforcement and campus security on alert, but the campus did not lock down. Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn told The Eagle that faculty and students are alerted by phone or email when an emergency arises at the college, which is a system that public schools in the city could perhaps emulate.

Whenever there is a school lockdown at Reid, PHS, any other school in the district or any other school in the county, state and nation, the immediate fear is that there is a shooter or shooters in the building. That is the American reality, one that students in other nations around the globe don't have to confront. Massachusetts' admirably tough gun laws are undermined by weak federal laws that make it too easy to get guns, and that reality won't change soon in Washington. That means that Berkshire schools must have lockdown drills and must pursue other measures, like resource officers and adjustment counselors. Money is tight in Pittsfield and Berkshire County but financing to make schools safer for students, teachers and faculty is certainly money well-spent.



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