In the wake of Friday’s school massacre at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., the Warwick school administration ruled yesterday that all elementary school buildings would be locked during the day.
The action came following a Monday morning meeting of school principals, and alters a policy adopted after 9/11 that all school exterior doors be locked other than the front door, where visitors are required to check in with the school office. Acting Superintendent Richard D’Agostino further reported that secondary schools pose a different situation because of the size of the buildings and multiple entrances. He said the administration is reviewing how to “harden” security at those buildings, too.
But the administration’s action was criticized for being made late and for being less than complete by several parents who called the Beacon. A common complaint was that schools failed to be proactive and while they use the Connect-Ed system for such notifications as open houses, they should have notified parents what to expect at schools Monday morning.
D’Agostino said that he posted a letter to parents on the school website Monday in addition to an advisory from the National Association of School Psychologists titled, “Talking to children about violence: Tips for parents and teachers.”
In his three-sentence letter, D’Agosinto writes, “we are reviewing our existing safety procedures that have been in place since September 2001, in order that we provide the safest environment for our students.” He said a Connect-Ed message would be going out to all parents Monday afternoon.
D’Agostino said he received in excess of 20 emails over the weekend and that at least 90 percent of them raised the issue of locking schools.
He said the issue of locking the buildings was not brought up until Monday. Asked why a plan hadn’t been developed sooner, D’Agostino said he didn’t find out about the shooting until 3 or 4 p.m. Friday. He said that the shooting was mentioned at the Toll Gate concert that evening, but that he was waiting for additional information to come in before taking steps for Warwick schools.
“There were just so many unanswered questions,” he said.
In addition, he said a number of principals were out of town over the weekend; so pulling a plan together at that time would not have been practical.
As part of the plan on Monday, a police cruiser or unmarked police vehicle was at every school that morning.
That was of concern to one father who said he had talked about the shootings with his 9-year-old son and the boy had wanted to know if he was going to be shot if he went to school. Having a police cruiser at the schools without prior notification, the father said, “Freaked out parents and kids.”
“This is the second largest city in the state and they did nothing, zero. Nothing was done over the weekend,” the father said. Another caller said she called the school department wanting to know why classroom doors did not have locks.
D’Agostino said most classrooms have locks, although some may not work or the keys have been misplaced. The issue of interior locks was apparently not addressed Monday, although D’Agostino said each school in the district abides by R.I. Department of Education requirements to conduct 15 to 16 fire, lock down and evacuation drills during the academic year.
D’Agostino said psychologists were available at all schools to help students, adding, “So far it has been a very quiet day.”
Implementing the locked policy will require the installation of buzzers and intercoms on many buildings. At most, D’Agostino estimated the cost at $2,000 per building.
“I don’t think the cost is relevant in this situation,” he said. “How can you measure a child’s life?”