MALDEN — Police Chief Kevin Molis made it clear he believes, above all, the most important element is helping keep students and staff in Malden’s schools safe on a daily basis “is talking to each other … and speaking up if something doesn’t appear quite right.”
The Malden official spoke to the City Council Tuesday, giving a status update on safety at the local schools.
“We are doing this in our community. We have regular communication, regular conservations and on many levels regarding our schools and what is going on inside them,” Molis said.
“They are not on an island. They are part of the fabric of our community and the Malden Police Department is highly involved with our schools.”
Molis, Malden Superintendent of Schools John Oteri and city Facilities Director Eric Rubin were on hand following a request from Ward 3 City Councilor John Matheson seeking a school safety status update in the wake of last week’s school shootings in Parkland, Fla.
Molis stressed constant and consistent communication was an essential ingredient to providing safety in Malden’s schools. It is especially important when dealing with individuals who may be troubled and could potentially harm themselves or others.
“Early intervention is so important in identifying someone who might feel alone and alienated or trending that way,” Molis said. “Sharing information is so important in this regard. That is why we are in constant contact with the school department. We have established a strong relationship by way of communications with Superintendent Oteri, with whom I confer regularly, and it means everything in being able to identify behavior, trends right down to individuals.”
“Our consistent goal is to make sure every kid is connected to an adult who they could turn to if they needed to share how they were feeling, what they were concerned with, or to relay something they heard or saw that was out of the ordinary,” said Oteri, who came on board as superintendent last June. “Safety is our highest priority on a daily basis in the Malden Public Schools.”
Oteri said every instance or reference which may have any type of connection to Malden Public Schools or its students and staff is noted, checked out and addressed, at any time. “In addition to maintaining safety and security in our physical school facilities, there is constant emphasis on monitoring online and social media activity,” he said.
Oteri recalled a recent instance where local students retweeted a reference of a possible threat “at mhs.”
“We checked it out, had discussions with Malden police and other city officials, late on a Sunday night and finally concluded the post referred to Monticello High School (‘mhs’) in Virginia,” Oteri said. “It allayed some anxiety and showed we can address issues of that nature swiftly and efficiently. We take these things seriously.”
“It is gratifying to hear your assessments,” said Ward 7 Councilor Neal Anderson. “But as safe as we feel here, we just never know. We may think ‘it will never happen here’ but there are no guarantees. We must follow your directives — shared responsibility, shared information — at all levels. We must stay vigilant.”
Ward 6 City Councilor Stephen Winslow noted the shooter in Florida was not a member of that town’s school system at the time of the killings. Oteri said the vigilance does not stop when students are graduated out of the school system.
“We have a number of instances in this school year where we have been able to offer assistance in getting former students helped in ways they needed it. We have intervened on behalf of former students by family request, and we can help with wellness checks,” Oteri said. “That is all part of what we are supposed to be doing, continuing to help people in our community.”
Molis said in addition to communication and hardware such as cameras in the schools, if a situation did arise, his personnel are capable of responding to it. “We have highly-trained special operations unit who are always on alert to respond to incidents if they happened in schools or elsewhere,” he said.
Rubin explained that safety inspections, walkthroughs and strategy sessions regarding the schools are held before and during the school years. “Locks, cameras and other equipment are continually being assessed and expanded, where needed as well as being brought up to date,” Rubin said. He said more than $50,000 in new surveillance cameras and technology were added to equipment already in place at the high school alone this year.
Oteri said fire drills, school lockdown drills, and shelter in place scenarios are conducted in all of the city’s schools. “This year we are looking at having public safety personnel on scene to give us a ‘report card’ on how the schools did.”
Molis summed it up and also noted the other Malden schools by saying, “My badge says ‘Malden’ — I am concerned with the safety of all our students in all of our schools, public and private. We have a lot of schools and over 8,000 kids in those schools in this city. We must keep them safe. Everyone must keep talking, keep communicating. In every case, someone knows something.”