An incident Friday, when a man pounded on the door at Cedar Hill School resulting in a school lockdown, has led parents to question school lockdown procedures and the arrest of the man, who turned out to be the father of a Cedar Hill student.
According to police records, officers responded to a call at 11:03 a.m. that an irate parent was at the locked door to the school who wouldn’t stop ringing the bell to be let in.
According to police, a man identified as Dana Paquette, 48, left the scene before they arrived. Soon thereafter, Paquette was stopped on Post Road near Brentwood Nursing Home. He was described as being “very cooperative.” He told police he was only trying to drop off lunch for his child.
At the school, however, a lockdown was initiated.
Contacted after a Cedar Hill School parent called the Beacon, Superintendent Richard D’Agostino said Friday that the school went into lockdown as a precaution when someone banged on the front door.
“I believe someone was banging on the door and the secretaries did not recognize him,” said D’Agostino during a phone interview.
He went on to say the man supposedly would not give his name or a reason for being there when asked, so the school went into lockdown.
“The police were called, as is regulation in a situation like that. They spoke with him and he went on his way,” said D’Agostino.
According to the superintendent, a lockdown is routine in this type of event.
On Monday, the school’s principal, Colleen Mercurio, emailed parents about an alleged incident on Thursday and of what happened on Friday.
“On Friday morning,” she writes, “the same parent came to school to drop off something for his daughter and the school utilized the new safety protocol that included the following procedures: 1) parent was identified by the secretary via the new security camera and then denied access to the school, 2) the door was not opened and all exterior doors remained locked, 3) police department was immediately notified of the parent’s presence at the school, AND 4) all students and staff were directed to stay in their classrooms and follow the procedures for a “sheltering in place,” which students practice each year K-12.”
According to a police report, police talked to the bus driver who was a witness to the incident on Thursday at about 3:20 p.m. According to the driver’s report, the bus was stopped near the corner of Venus and Hesper Drives when a man approached the vehicle and started pounding on the emergency door window. The driver identified the man as the father of one of the students on the bus. She said she was “nervous” for the safety of the students in the back of the bus. The man allegedly then threw a snowball at the door window. Students in the back of the bus told the driver that the man pulled down his pants and exposed his buttocks to the bus.
According to their report, police then contacted Paquette, asking him to respond to the police station. He came into headquarters at 7:15 p.m. Friday where, in a written statement, he said he banged on the back door of the bus and threw a snowball. He told police that he turned around to go to his car with his child and that his pants “may have slipped down a little.”
He told police he does not wear a belt because of a hernia and he was sorry if he offended anyone. He was charged with a single count of disorderly conduct.
The episode promoted a flurry of calls between parents, including an email from Catherine Costantino, PTO president and the mother of two Cedar Hill School students.
“I know, as a parent of two kids at CHS, I would like to have known that this event occurred at our school. Both so that I could understand exactly what happened, instead of trying to decipher it through my kids and from some calls I received from concerned parents, also trying to decipher what happened from their own little ones,” she writes.
“I also would have liked communication so that I could talk to my kids about the events and reassure them that they and their school are safe.”
Costantino made several observations, including that students were told that the school would be going through a drill lockdown on Friday when that was not the case.
“The school continues to tell the children both over the intercom and in the classrooms that the shelter in place/lock down events and drills are just that, drills, which can cause all involved to not take these events seriously enough. I believe that these announcements should only state that the school is in a SIP or lockdown and all in the school should comply with the guidelines for this scenario,” she writes.
Reached Monday afternoon, D’Agostino agreed that students and many faculty members should not be told in advance that they are doing a drill. However, he felt the school did the correct thing by not notifying parents of the lockdown, which he said lasted for about a half-hour. He said the lockdown was ordered by “the teacher in charge,” since the principal was not at the school at the time.
He said that police responded and took over the situation and, in fact, let the man go.
“The security process worked, nobody got hurt,” he said.
Going forward, he said, he would follow the same procedure.
“There was no crisis. It was of concern,” he said.
As for notifying parents, he said, “For it to mean something, I’m not going to call you every minute of the day.”
In her email, Costantino listed areas of the school and situations that she feels are not secure and need to be addressed. She also calls on parents to contact school administrators and request improved communications.
D’Agostino said he couldn’t talk about areas needing additional security. He said that Warwick Schools have security locks; staff has identification cards; and protocols are in place. He said the department is one of the first in the state to comply with the school safety plan recently released by the governor.
Costantino urged for the School Department to review what happened and to open communications.
“Let’s take ownership in an effective way rather than defensive way,” she said yesterday.
She suggested the administration should be inviting parents to a forum to discuss what happened. D’Agostino said there would be discussions with teachers.
“Is this something that happens in one school?” he asked, rhetorically. “We can learn from what happens.”
Asked what students did during the lockdown, D’Agostino said that varied between classes and what was going on in the classroom at the time. Citing an example of a kindergarten class, he said students were gathered in a corner of the room. Costantino said her children believed the incident to be a drill and didn’t have any sense of emergency.