Following the tragic shooting in Newtown, there’s been a police presence at each of Monroe’s schools. Although Masuk High School and Jockey Hollow Middle School have always had school resource officers on site, this is the first time law enforcement officials have been stationed at the town’s elementary schools.
As part of his proposed 2013-14 budget for education, school Superintendent James C. Agostine has set aside about $300,000 for security improvements to the schools’ infrastructure and to enhance the district’s safety procedures. These proposed initiatives will be funded by reducing the contribution to a self-funded medical reimbursement fund.
At Monroe Elementary School’s regular monthly Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting, Agostine shared details about impending security measures. He also discussed details about the education budget and asked for parents’ support for the Board of Education-approved spending plan.
‘An eye-opener for me ‘
“Listening to Jim speak to us about much-needed security initiatives and other basic improvements to our school was an eye-opener for me personally,” said PTO President Lisa Dutkowsky.
“The safety and well-being of our kids is our top priority, and these new security measures will ensure that our kids will continue to learn and thrive in a much safer building,” she said. “His proposed budget has full support from the Monroe Elementary PTO.”
Monroe parent Jeanette Raucci agreed. Although she understands how tight the education budget is, she would rather spend money on school security than on items such as road improvements.
“I think we have to,” Raucci said. “I don’t think we’re overreacting. These are our kids.”
First Selectman Stephen J. Vavrek is also in agreement about strengthening school security. However, Vavrek would like the expenditure placed on the town side of the budget since Monroe “owns” the school buildings.
“I just want to make sure that every cent of it goes to the schools,” Agostine said.
Coincidentally, the district already had been in the middle of evaluating school security when the Newtown incident occurred. Monroe school administrators had received a draft of proposed initiatives Dec. 13, the day before the Newtown shooting.
Replacing interior locks on all doors, strengthening front doors and improving the entrance “buzzer” units are some of the proposed projects.
Agostine also is calling for creating sally ports (additional foyers) in each building and implementing the use of a double buzz-in system. “This gives us a second look at whoever is coming into the school,” he said.
Monroe El Principal Debra Kovachi will have a bird’s-eye view of visitors entering her school because plans are under way to move her office closer to the entranceway. She is expected to relocate to a reading room, which is adjacent to the main lobby.
After students disembark from buses in the morning, the main doors will be locked. Anyone arriving late or throughout the school day will be required to use a door near the gym.
“As an administrative group, we continue to review our safety procedures and protocols to help to ensure our children’s safety,” Kovachi said. “In addition, we are looking at our school facilities to make changes that will help to secure our schools to make them a safer environment in which our children can learn and grow.”
Use of cameras
The new security plans include upgrading video cameras and installing panic buttons at all schools.
Although the schools currently are under surveillance, and streamed to the Monroe Police Department, systematic improvements, along with the addition of better laptop computers in all police cruisers, and a new wi-fi system, would allow patrol officers to have better visibility and access to the schools.
In the case of an emergency, such as an unwelcome intruder, they would be able to respond quickly.
“What we know about these intruders is the quicker you get to them, the quicker they commit suicide,” Agostine said.
While funding is uncertain, it’s likely the police presence at each school building will continue, at least until the end of the school year. Agostine said parents have overwhelmingly responded favorably to the presence of law enforcement officers.
Monroe mother Kim Henderson asked school officials to discuss lockdown drills that are taking place in all of the schools.
Kovachi explained she recently walked students through the drill, which is conducted in a similar fashion to fire drills.
“All of the teachers quickly look into the hall, grab whatever kids are there and get them into a classroom and then shut their door,” Kovachi said. “They’re instructed to keep out of sight.”
She pointed out that teachers knew a drill would take place, and students understood it was only a drill. In a month or so, she will conduct another lockdown drill so that everyone becomes familiar with the correct procedures.
During this month’s drill, Kovachi said, she and the police officer on duty checked to make sure every door was locked and that no one could be seen from the doorway.