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New Canaan schools maintain, review security procedures following Newtown shooting

Updated 1:45 pm, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

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  • NCHS students tied pink and purple ribbons on their backpacks this week to honor the Sandy Hook Elementary School students and staff who were victims of last Friday's tragedy.  Pink and purple were chosen because they were favorite colors of one of the students, Olivia Engel, whose cousins are New Canaan residents.  Dec. 18, 2012. Photo: Jeanna Petersen Shepard
    NCHS students tied pink and purple ribbons on their backpacks this week to honor the Sandy Hook Elementary School students and staff who were victims of last Friday's tragedy. Pink and purple were chosen because they were favorite colors of one of the students, Olivia Engel, whose cousins are New Canaan residents. Dec. 18, 2012. Photo: Jeanna Petersen Shepard

 

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In the wake of last week's tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, New Canaan Public Schools have increased staff presence during morning drop-off and dismissal and reviewed security procedures throughout the week.

The district's Crisis Advisory Board met immediately after school Friday and again on Monday.

The board announced that all procedures are under review. It implemented one change effective immediately, which is to check the identification of visitors to the building before they are issued a pass.

It also streamlined the visitors' protocol across the five schools, each of which had slightly different systems, according to CAB Chairman and South Elementary Principal Joanne Rocco.

Superintendent Mary Kolek explained some of the protocols the schools now have in place.

"If someone doesn't have a (visitor's) badge, our procedure is to stop them and bring them back to the office. We have had people follow that and bring people back to the office and say, `You need to come back and check in.' If there is anything wrong with that person or situation, then we have procedures that we follow," she said.

The schools take their crisis preparations from a manual created by the CAB, which started in 1999 after the shootings at Columbine High School by two assistant principals.

Since then, it has grown more sophisticated and includes administrators from each of the schools, the head of facilities and technology, members of the police and fire departments, and members from the Office of Emergency Management.

Rocco said the range of experiences and expertise of members on the CAB allows for a complete understanding of crisis situations.

"The diversity is to make sure that we address all components of safety and to make sure we have expertise from all parts of society, to make sure we are always in consultation with experts in their fields.

Also people from the schools can make sure that the responses are appropriate for children."

Rocco noted the difficulty between maintaining safety and keeping an open community. Schools might be completely safe if they operated with extreme security, but there would unquestionably be something lost in that environment.

"I don't anticipate major changes; I anticipate tightening up our procedures," Rocco said. "We don't want to make any rash decisions that make our schools not a community where parents are welcomed. We want to have a community feeling, but we want to maintain safety for our students inside the building. We talk about that all the time, how do we balance?"

Kolek said Monday that the schools would continue to set procedures.

"We're operating with standard procedures," she said. "Elementary and middle schools have buzzers at the door, and [visitors] are checked in at the offices or a front desk. (Visitors) indicate who they are and who they're visiting and are issued passes. We have additional staff this week who are at the buildings in the mornings and at dismissal times. We've also got some parent volunteers this week."

Bunny Potts, the principal of East Elementary School echoed Kolek's statement, saying her school has fire, lockdown, and evacuation drills regularly and is confident that the school is well-prepared.

"We're always very secure, we monitor the doors all the time and the perimeter doors are always locked. I don't want people to think we're putting in security measures for this because they've always been this way," she said Monday.

Kolek also mentioned that the administrators were reminded about the procedures if they discover an unknown person in the building.

For people who have worked their whole lives with and for children, the Newtown shooting has been a particularly horrific experience for New Canaan Public School administrators, both professionally and personally. Kolek called it a heart-wrenching experience.

"Your heart stops and bleeds for anyone in this circumstance," she said. "I know people in that community and they're wonderful people. As an administrator, this is first and foremost in our minds all the times to ensure that we have an orderly and safe environment for learning. ... My job is to make sure we have a system set up to that is responsive to the emotional and physical issues people in our community have."

Rocco said that there was no experience that was comparable to what happened in Newtown.

"It's a feeling unlike any other we've experienced in this school and we've experienced some tough times. This hits home on all levels: being an elementary school, being so close to home. The teachers were sad when they came to school (Monday). We had an emergency staff meeting that morning so that teachers could be together and go over security procedures and reassure teachers that they would be able to take care of their children in a crisis and that taking care of their children is what they do best."

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews