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Local schools considering new and tighter security measures

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December 21, 2006

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Several Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) schools are considering new security measures in light of recent acts of violence at schools in Vermont and throughout the country.

Middlebury Union Middle School has already installed a new front-entrance security system, while other schools in the district are considering blinds, alarm systems, reorganized offices that look upon entryways, and/or doors that lock from the inside, as upgrades to better protect teachers and children from would-be attackers.

“We still want people to come to our schools, but we want to ensure their safety at the same time,” said Middlebury School Resource Officer Scott Fisher.

Fisher, a member of the ACSU’s school safety committee, said the impetus for heightened security came this fall following “eight acts of violence” during the first four weeks of the 2006-2007 school year.

One of the most high-profile incidents occurred in Paradise, Penn., this past October, when a heavily armed man killed five girls in an Amish schoolhouse before committing suicide. But the incident that really hit home was a fatal shooting at Essex Elementary School on Aug. 24.

“I think it shook a lot of people up,” Fisher said of the Essex tragedy. “It’s not supposed to happen (in Vermont).”

The school safety committee got together and looked at some short- and long-term ways to improve security measures within the ACSU. The most immediate upgrade came at MUMS this past October, when officials set up a new front entrance security system that includes a camera. That system requires visitors to press a door button to signal someone at the MUMS front office. That worker can see the visitor on a television monitor, and buzz her or him into the building to sign a guest register.

MUMS Principal Inga Duktig said the new system has worked well.

“I have received positive comments from many parents,” she said. “They understand that this may be a necessary thing to do, with a certain sadness in recognition that even here we are not immune from violence in our society.”

Duktig noted the new MUMS security setup is similar to how many people protect themselves at home.

“It is not unlike my own home, where people are not free to come in, but have to knock, or ring a doorbell,” Duktig said.

While there are no immediate plans to install a similar system at Middlebury Union High School, Fisher said officials have quietly implemented some new precautions this fall. For example, MUHS can now only be accessed from three entryways, compared to the nine accesses that had been available until recently.

Other ACSU schools considering new security precautions include:

• Bridport Central, where school board members have discussed such ideas as putting in a doorbell and/or installing a window in the principal’s office so she can view people entering the building.

• Weybridge Elementary, where officials are talking about establishing a school safety committee. Board members have also talked about setting up a communications system within the school, and installing blinds and screens for classrooms.

• Cornwall Community School, where visitors’ access to the school is now limited to two multipurpose room doors. Both of the exterior doors into the coatrooms are now locked after 8:15 a.m. Parents and visitors need to sign in at the office so staff knows who is in the building, along with the nature of their business.

Additional security changes may be in the offing for MUHS, MUMS, the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center and Mary Hogan Elementary School. Fisher is seeking federal funding for interior door locks at those schools. Estimated cost: $30 per lock for the hundreds of doors within those four buildings.

“Since the Essex incident, we’ve been trying to get the interiors of some of these schools more secure,” Fisher said.

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