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School safety audits complete, recommendations expected soon

(Feb. 1, 2013) Safety and security in the county’s schools continues to be a high priority, as Worcester’s school district reports that independent reviews of each school, by both internal committees and local law enforcement agencies, have been completed and will likely see a recommendation for improvements this month.

“It was a concerted effort by our schools and law enforcement,” said Worcester County Schools Director of Public Relations and Special Programs Barb Witherow. “A composite list of recommendations, at some point, is going to be submitted to the Board of Education.”

After a review and compilation of the studies by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson, an analysis and suggested action will likely be given during the Feb. 19 board meeting, Witherow said.

“Our goal was to develop safety priorities that could be classified under three categories: personnel, capital improvements, and best practices,” Witherow said.

Immediately following the mass shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 26 staff and students dead, Worcester began re-enforcing its own safety protocols. Those include requiring that all doors except the front entrance be locked following students’ morning arrival and that all visitors to the school must check in and wear an identification badge.

“Those procedures have definitely been tightened,” Witherow said.

An increased police presence at schools, particularly during the morning hours when students arrive at school and in the afternoon when they leave, has also been observed since the Sandy Hook killings. Witherow said that this is likely to continue indefinitely.

“[Local law enforcement] have always patrolled our schools. They have had a heightened presence recently and they are definitely going to continue to do that,” she said.

In a recent essay discussing safety in the county’s schools, Wilson also noted that Worcester would be considering further measures, such as the use of School Resource Officers – whether these be police or private security – as well as physical capital improvements, such as the installation of buzz-in security doors on schools’ front entrances.

These will likely be addressed, Witherow said, in conjunction with the studies done by local law enforcement as well as the schools’ own safety committees.

Students have also continued to practice “lockdown drills” in schools. Although the exact details of these exercises will not be revealed in order to maintain their effectiveness in a violent confrontation, Witherow said that they “do refer to the highest level of security, such as an intruder.”

“We are continuing to forge forward,” Witherow said. “I think our parents and our community can have confidence that the measures in our future recommendations have the backing of law enforcement.”

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