BREAKING: Man Dead after Triple Shooting in Lynn
News

How safe are our schools?

Local communities have safety protocols in place.

Rob Smith, campus monitor at Lynn Classical High School, looks at footage from some of the more than 30 security cameras at the school. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — Lynn Superintendent of Schools Dr. Catherine C. Latham hopes the city will never face a tragedy like the recent one that claimed lives of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

But the district has spent years to prepare for any kind of event.

“Although we are sadly aware that these events could happen anywhere, I want everyone to know that our safety strategies are among the best and are constantly being updated and reviewed,” she said.

Officer Oren Wright, the school security and emergency planning liaison, said he’s comfortable with the district’s security protocols.

“We’re constantly doing drills and there’s an all-call sent to parents after a drill or if it was a real lockdown that occurred,” he said. “So they’re kept apprised of what happens generally.”

Wright said there’s been a couple of incidents that happened earlier this year where he’s had to call a school to tell them to go into lockdown secure and hold because of an incident happening near the school.

There was a suicide earlier this year at Neptune Towers, which caused nearby Lynn Tech to go into a secure and hold, which was to shield students from seeing anything they don’t need to see. Another incident was a home invasion on a street, where police were looking for an armed suspect. A secure and hold was called for Ingalls and Hood elementary schools, Wright said.

Wright said a secure and hold is called when there’s an incident outside the school, or within the area, and a lockdown is called for a problem inside the school, such as an active shooter.

Wright said the security protocols have been in place at the school for at least the past 10 years. There are cameras inside and outside every Lynn Public School, with live access to the cameras from his desk, along with live access in three locations in the Lynn Police Department. If there was an incident, he said a police officer would immediately be able to tell what the location is.

He said every door of every Lynn Public Schools building is locked at all times and visitors have to go through a buzzer system to enter the building. If someone got past security and inside the building in an active shooter situation, Wright said police response would be under two minutes. In the case of the district’s four middle schools, an armed school resource officer would already be in the building. Police can gain instant access to every school by swiping a card.

Lockdown drills are done twice a year in every school, including the district’s private schools. Everyone is directed to a specific place to hide during the drills. Wright said only the school’s principal is aware the situation is a drill — for all students and staff know, it could be the real thing.

“It’s never called a drill,” Wright said. “We do it the same. I call it practice how you play … We have principal meetings every month and I stop in and remind them we have to stay vigilant and cannot become complacent. Security is a necessary inconvenience we just have to put up with.”

Police Lt. Michael Kmiec said the city’s police force attends annual training on how to deal with potential school shooter incidents and officers are inside the school building during lockdown drills to familiarize themselves with the schools.

“Obviously, we want to be prepared, but we don’t want to give away any tactical advantages by giving out too much information in the event something should occur,” he said.

One principal is calling for the return of police to the city’s high schools, saying the best deterrent to an intruder is a cruiser out front and an officer inside.

“We need the cops back,” said Gene Constantino of Lynn Classical High. “There were police at the high schools at one time. Having that police car out front is invaluable.”

Police Chief Michael Mageary said police were at the three high schools nearly a decade ago, but they were removed due to budget constraints.

“We just couldn’t afford it anymore,” he said. “We’d love to be able to do it because the school resource officers are a great program, but we can’t just take guys off patrol to put them at the schools.”

Constantino hopes there is a way to find the cash to reinstate them, he said.

“I know the police response time is great and school resource officer Oren Wright does a great job on school safety,” he said. “But I still think we should have police in the high schools. I have asked that they be reinstated for the last few years. It’s been a priority for me.”

LYNNFIELD

School safety and communication go hand in hand for Lynnfield school officials.

Superintendent Jane Tremblay said the schools have procedures in place to notify parents and students of both drills and active incidents.

“This year, we began the protocol of communicating with parents prior to doing any drills in the schools,” the superintendent said. “We are hoping this gives parents the opportunity to talk to their children in advance.”

In the event of a true incident, lockdown, evacuation, or shelter in place, Tremblay said the police department would be involved.

“Together, we would work to ensure the safety of all of the students and adults in the schools,” she said. “Depending on the situation, a reverse 911 might go out to the whole town at the beginning of the incident or circumstances may be such that communication would be later. It would depend on the circumstances of the threat and exactly where it was playing out. The first priority has to be the safety of individuals.”

The schools and police worked together last week to inform parents about an alleged threat that was made against the high school by a student. In an email sent to parents from Tremblay, high school principal Robert Cleary, and Police Chief David Breen, parents were alerted that there was no direct evidence of any credible threat to the safety of students.

“In light of recent national events, we know this is troubling news, but we want you to be aware of any threats to the safety of our school community,” the officials stated in the email. “Every precaution has been taken and will be taken in the future.”

The district also implemented ALICE training this year. ALICE, a nationwide initiative, is an acronym for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.

At a presentation to parents earlier this school year, school resource officer Patrick Curran said the steps in ALICE are not necessarily meant to be done in order in the case of an active shooter or other building security risk.

“This is not a step-by-step process,” he said. “It provides tools to use in case there is a dangerous situation or a crisis.”

Curran said the active shooter and other crisis situations are “something we hope never happens, but given the world today, it is something we have to prepare for.”

Curran became a full-time school resource officer during the 2015-16 school year.

In addition to the ALICE training, other security steps taken at the schools in the past several years include upgraded surveillance cameras and the establishment of a building and safety security task force.

MARBLEHEAD

Robert Picariello, Marblehead’s Chief of Police, vows to continue working closely with Marblehead schools to promise school safety for both students and faculty.

Picariello and his police force are doing what they can to protect all six schools, one high school, one middle school and four elementary schools that are located in Marblehead.

“We work closely with the school district on school safety protocols and we even have a school resource officer,” he said. “We remain in close contact with all of our schools on a regular basis to stay on top of those protocols.”

Given the recent school shootings that have created fear throughout the country, Picariello understands the urgency behind ensuring safety for the schools, their students, and their faculties.

“Sad to say there have been a lot of school shootings over the years and it’s tragic,” said the police chief. “There have been too many to name since Columbine, it seems like there is one a week.”

The Item reached out to numerous town school officials seeking comment regarding safety protocols and school lockdown plans, and didn’t receive a single response.

NAHANT

Tony Pierantozzi, superintendent of the Johnson School in Nahant, has ensured that the safety of his students is the school’s No. 1 priority. Given the recent events all across the country, Pierantozzi and his faculty have taken safety precautions even further.

“Last week we had a temporary patrol car outside of the school to show parents we take health and safety seriously,” he said.

The school has an active crisis team that meets regularly with the police chief, fire chief, and school faculty all in attendance. The team meetings allow the school and town to continuously review their crisis plans and adapt them to ensure safety at all times.

“We had a meeting after winter break about our procedures and we also discussed trainings and even practiced with some of our students,” said Pierantozzi.

If ever in a crisis, the school has a communication system that is linked to the emails and phone numbers of all parents and sends out an alert instantaneously. Their first call is to the Nahant Police Department and the second is to the Nahant Fire Department, according to the superintendent.

“We call them first because they’re experts on any environmental or person to person emergency,” he said.

In summer 2016, when Pierantozzi started his position, he improved the school’s main entry by adding double locks. According to him, when the morning bell rings to start the school day, they lock both of the doors. When someone tries to enter the building they must buzz in, identify themselves, and then wait at the second locked door.

“We are proactive and our school is small so we talk with our students regularly,” he said.

PEABODY

City and school officials are looking at short- and long-term solutions when it comes to making schools safer.

While Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr. said the safety of students and staff is always a top concern, there is always something to learn after an incident such as the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.

“When something like that happens, we do have to review procedures with law enforcement, with school administration, and with teachers and students to learn about changes that we should be making,” said the mayor. “This is something that we have to continue to work on.”

In case of a lockdown, shelter-in-place, or other school-based security issue, parents are notified through email and the ConnectEd online information system, according to school committee member Beverley Anne Griffin Dunne.

Each school in the district has a security management plan, as well as door security, cameras recommended by police, and Columbine locks, which were installed several years ago and allow teachers to lock the doors from the inside.

Dunne said school officials have long taken a hard look at school security, even though incidents like the Parkland shooting bring it to the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“I’ve been involved in discussions for decades, and not just about school shootings but also about terrorism,” said Dunne. “Columbine happened in 1999, and there was a lot that was done even back then.”

Still, Dunne and Bettencourt said it is best to remain vigilant and always be reviewing school safety procedures.

In the short term, Bettencourt said school and police officials will be reviewing locks, cameras, and secure entry points at the schools.

In the long term, the mayor said he would like to see a greater police presence at the schools.

“We need to add more dedicated school police officers,” he said.

Interim Superintendent Herb Levine said the students are the best partners teachers and administration have in keeping the schools safe.

“If anyone sees anything unusual or out of place, (the students) will,” he said. “We have to make sure they are involved.

The superintendent said school security extends beyond keeping everyone safe inside the buildings.

“There are police at every outdoor event,” he said.

School committee member Jarrod Hochman said the board will continue to look at ways to make the schools safer.

“We’re looking at programs that are occurring all over the country and trying to figure out what’s the best way to address the situation in Peabody,” he said.

Still, with all the programs and training, Dunne said the biggest burden is often on the youngest students, especially when they take part in active shooter drills.

“It’s a lot for kids to take in, and it can break your heart,” she said. “They try to make it as much like a fire drill as possible and not a big deal, but I’ve been at the elementary schools when they’ve had the drills and seen kids cry because they are scared. It’s a fine line.”

REVERE

Revere Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Dianne Kelly says that the key to keeping the communities schools safe and prepared for an emergency situation is an ongoing relationship with local police and fire departments.

“We are fortunate to have great police and fire departments that work with us,” she said. “It’s instrumental, we follow their lead 100 percent.”

Kelly says that this is especially important with the random safety drills that police will help design and practice with different simulations to better prepare staff and students, one of which involved a scenario where the main stairwell was shut down during drills.

“They help us craft and revise our safety drills and programs,” she said. “It’s tremendously helpful.”

Revere Public Schools includes 11 schools housed in eight buildings and has 7,567 students according to the superintendent’s office.

These schools have also practiced more vigilance on school IDs on students and staff members, better inquiring on who people are before they enter schools’ front doors, and reviewing safety plans.

“We review our safety plans every year in our back-to-school meetings,” Kelly said. “It’s important to be prepared and plan for things we hope will not ever happen.”

SAUGUS

By 2020, Saugus hopes to have a brand new middle-high school, and updated buildings for an upper and lower elementary school with top-of-the-line security features.

But until then, Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi said it’s important to get to the root of ensuring the students are kept safe. By building trusting relationships between teachers and students, adults will have a better chance of knowing what is going on within the school’s walls, he said, including anything violent or threatening.

DeRuosi also stressed the importance of encouraging legislatures to fund more school resource officers.

“When they build relationships with kids, it’s easier to protect the students,” he said. “When kids trust adults they’re comfortable enough to go to a teacher or a staff member with concerns. That’s how you find out about these things.”

At the risk of making the plan public, DeRuosi declined to comment on the specific safety procedures in the case of a threat while children are in school, but the schools do practice lockdowns, shelter-in-place drills, and other methods.

Parents are alerted of the situation and a plan set in place by ConnectEd, which sends a recorded phone message and email. Updates are given through the system as necessary.

Oftentimes students also text their parents when something is going on at the school, and parents show up at schools in crowds.

“If the school is in a form of a lockdown, parents are not getting in,” said DeRuosi. “As a parent, I would have the same reaction. But now we’re trying to manage a situation inside and have an added situation outside.”

Should there be a threat while the students are away from the building, as was the case at Saugus High School last week, DeRuosi said the first thing that happens is an assessment of the situation by himself, the school principal, the police, and Town Manager Scott Crabtree. After the credibility of the threat is determined, the administrators settle on the best course of action and alert parents.

When security is elevated at the schools, entrance and dismissals are controlled at one door, where an increased police presence can assure everyone entering and exiting the building is safe. Teachers and other staff members stand by the other entrances to ensure nobody leaves or enters the building through them.

“The problem with the old buildings is there are so many doors,” said DeRuosi.

Many of the schools built in the 1970s have irregular floor patterns with many angles and unexpected corridors, he said.

“They’re hard buildings to police because they’re so spread out with so many exits and entrances,” said DeRuosi.

Newer schools have designs that are typically symmetrical and allow for a farther line of sight.

The town’s school building committee and police department are working with developers on the new school’s design. It will include updated technology and increased safety measures that cannot be offered at the current building given its antiquated design.

Web-based cameras will be placed in locations where they can cover the most ground, and they’ll be accessible to a resource officer in his or her office, school principals, the superintendent, and even police who can pull up footage from their cruisers, he said.

The presence of cameras will also help with smaller crimes like vandalism.

“If someone knows there is a camera there, they’re less likely to do anything to the building,” said DeRuosi. “They’ll curb some of the smaller stuff too.”

SWAMPSCOTT

School officials and police already have security protocols in place for emergency scenarios at the schools, including an active shooter.

Swampscott Police Det. Ted Delano, a School Committee member, said school officials are in constant contact with the town’s police department on school security.

“Obviously, it’s on the forefront of everyone’s minds,” Delano said. “As a parent of an elementary student, I understand the anxiety that comes with talking about school shootings and I think we’re as prepared as we can be.”   

Delano said there’s action plans for different scenarios and schools, which are adjusted to personnel changes throughout the year so everyone is coherent on what is everyone’s responsibility. He said every building has its own plan and Det. Rose Cheever, the school resource officer, works with each school to make sure the plan is fluid and going the way it should be.

Delano said there’s been ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate), or Active Shooter Response Training, incorporated for teachers, as they are an integral part of ensuring the safety of the kids. Throughout his time on the school committee, Delano said he’s made it a point that school safety and social emotional wellbeing of all students is addressed.

Delano said drills are frequent, where the building is locked and no one comes in or out. He said students and faculty are shepherded into zones of safety.

All police departments are trained in regard to active shooter scenarios, Delano said, and there are specific tasks to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and deal with a threat in the building. There are cameras within the schools, which are monitored by police.

Each of the schools submit a crisis manual yearly to Superintendent Pamela Angelakis. Copies are disseminated to the police, school resource officer and fire department. District crisis team meetings are held yearly, sometimes once or more, according to a statement from the superintendent’s office.

“We are looking into small tweaks as appropriate,” the statement read. “Parents are notified with a letter or email for a planned drill. If unplanned, they are notified after via a robocall.”

Delano, the town’s first school resource officer, said he was involved with setting up the schools’ action plans and knows they work. Everyone on the police department is aware of what the plans are.

Police response to the schools would be within minutes, according to Sgt. Tim Cassidy.

“It’s unfortunate now that we have to have this thought process,” Delano said. “I know the plans do work and there is anxiety for the students and the parents, but hopefully we can keep this in the back of our minds and move forward and the students can get sent into the education arena.”

Police Chief Ronald Madigan said at a recent joint meeting between the Board of Selectmen and School Committee that he wanted to acknowledge the level of anxiety throughout the town as well as every town throughout the country following the terrible tragedy down in Parkland, Fla. He said police recognize that hits home, including in Swampscott.

“Our police department is extremely well-trained, well-prepared, well-equipped and we have done a significant amount of pre-planning in terms of having plans in place with how to respond to an active shooter, as well as other emergencies, as do the schools.

“We are vigilant in this town, in our police department, in the schools in terms of not only communicating and recognizing incidents of concern or problems that one might categorize as warning signs or mental health issues or disciplinary issues … We investigate any type of threat that appears to be a problem in the schools and we really follow it to ground and go to great lengths to investigate those.”

More Stories From Lynn