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Wellesley schools accelerate new security measures

We spoke with Wellesley School Superintendent David Lussier on Tuesday afternoon about the latest on Wellesley Public School security in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings and the word of the day was “accelerate.”

Lussier (who issued a note to the school community on Friday) says plans had already been underway and budgeted for to make school security more consistent across the system, but that plans have been accelerated in light of the recent events – even as the school team carries on with other big projects, including the FY ’14 budget, which Lussier discussed at the School Committee meeting on Tuesday night.

“We’re trying to be responsive in light of what happened,” Lussier told us, noting that the school department has received an overwhelming amount of calls and emails from the community, mainly expressing support for the administration and teachers. “People do look to us not just to educate students but to protect their kids as well.”

Administrators met early Monday with faculty/staff to review crisis/safety/lockdown procedures that have been designed in sync with local police. They’ve tried to institute as much normalcy during school days as possible, letting students lead the way on conversations about the Newtown situation.

(According to School Committee Chair Diane Campbell, beginning on Friday Lussier engaged building principals  and facilities maintenance director Joe McDonough to review security procedures and implementation of video-buzzer systems at schools that don’t have them. He communicated with School Committee throughout the weekend and at Monday’s morning meeting. He also gave an update at Tuesday’s School Committee meeting, which you can view at Wellesley Media if you didn’t catch it live.)

Some Wellesley elementary schools already have AIPHONE security systems in place that include intercoms, buzzers, etc., and the new Wellesley High has an even more modern system. Now the rest of the schools will get new systems that incorporate buzzers/audio/video monitoring as soon as possible, with some actions already taken and others expected over the next 2 months. Because the physical set-up of each school is unique (i.e., where main offices are in relation to outside doors), requirements will vary from building to building. Money will be taken from the next budget to pay for security systems. The possibility of student ID cards/key access could be considered down the road, at least for older kids.

Wellesley has already implemented nearly instant robocalls and text/email messages to alert the community of school-related and other emergencies, and Lussier expects such systems will continue to be improved and expanded upon. Twitter and other such communications tools could someday be incorporated if they’re deemed useful.

School administrators are also being briefed by Wellesley Police on the latest strategies for responding to violent intruders, not that any decisions have been made on using these yet.

While the new security systems will undoubtedly require changes in behavior among students, faculty, staff and parents/school visitors, Lussier says people will get used to it. He comes from an urban school system in Austin, Texas where such systems were common.

Lussier, like Wellesley High Principal Andrew Keough and other school administrators, have stressed that changes to physical security systems won’t be enough to boost school protection. “One of the best lines of security is the relationship with have with our students, making sure kids [and adults] are connected and known,” Lussier says. “That has to be part of the conversation, making sure folks don’t feel alienated.”

Lussier says that overall, it would be a mistake to get extreme and head toward a police state in our schools. “There’s got to be a middle ground of sensible security measures.”

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