"ALL CHILDREN ARE SAFE," was both a direct message and the overarching theme of an extensive memo sent to parents late last week by Interim School Superintendent Dr. John Reed. The letter was also posted on social networks and provided to The Newtown Bee on August 24.
After welcoming remarks and revealing his own excitement as the new school year begins, Dr. Reed quickly moves into several major points - all involving the safety of students.
The superintendent first, asks parents and caregivers to be patient regarding transportation issues that might present , and asks parents to expedite any picture taking on the first day of school in an effort to keep busses on time.
Dr. Reed then turns to the latest news about the school district's security committee.
"The responsibilities of this committee will evolve during the coming school year because the State is establishing guidelines which mandate that a security committee be established in each individual school," Dr. Reed writes. "In addition, we will be expanding the membership of the town security committee to include additional persons such as Emergency Management Director Bill Halstead. "
The superintendent also announces that John Jay College has offered the district its services establishing a security analysis, which will begin in September. More details will be circulated soon, he added.
At this point, Dr. Reed turns to the issue of increased, mandated security drills.
"It appears a new law will mandate drills for emergency conditions as regularly as every three months," he writes. "We all realize that the impact of drills on our students is different from other towns because of what we have experienced. We are very mindful of the emotional impact that drills can have on staff, students and families."
He said a June lockdown in the district provided a teaching moment, and there is a new alternative in place for the new school year, called a "lock-in."
"In a 'lock-in' drill all children are inside the school, and the school day continues in a normal fashion for teachers and students. Exterior doors to the school are already locked and a police officer is on site."
Dr Reed said one major component of the “lock-in” drill is the school site.
"During this procedure an additional police officer will assist us to control the entrance to the school site. In essence, a checkpoint is established and screening occurs before a vehicle can enter," the superintendent continued. "During the year we will also practice a variation of the 'lock-in' where the site is secure and no one will be permitted to enter the school or site while the drill is in progress. This will include parents, and we will need your understanding and cooperation."
He said the School Messenger system will be used to communicate with parents during security exercises so it is vital that contact information is up to date. He advises parents who need to make changes to any contact information, to notify their school secretary in writing via email.
In a sample “lock-in” notice via the School Messenger system, Dr. Reed said the first thing parents will likely hear, is the reassurance: "ALL CHILDREN ARE SAFE."
"Students and staff are engaged in their regular school activities," the sample message reads. "We are working with the Newtown Police Department to determine when the event will end. We plan a normal dismissal and parents can pick up students following the usual procedure and times. "
Dr. Reed said when parents receive a notice that starts with “all children are safe” and goes on to say there is no known source of danger on the school campus, "it is my earnest hope that this will relieve the stress associated with the June 10 announcement that many parents and students experienced."
"Please remember that we will practice drills which exclude all from entering the site and school," he added. "It is also important not to call the school office or individuals in the school during drills or during an actual lockdown and/or lock-in since our staff will be focused on providing the appropriate attention to your children and to the procedure."
Dr. Reed closed saying that some of the security committee's goals are being implemented such as building hardening projects at exterior entry points and classrooms. And, he said, steps are being taken to install security cameras in all schools.
The superintendent also said he would be meeting with Police Chief Kehoe soon to discuss security issues soon, and invited parents to attend.