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St. Lawrence school districts reviewing security procedures

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In the wake of the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., some St. Lawrence County districts are reviewing their security procedures to ensure their buildings are secure.

Many schools practice regular lockdown procedures, with drills in place to ensure the safety of as many students and staff as possible in the event of a tragedy.

The Potsdam Central School District held a parents meeting recently to reassure the community its schools were safe.

Approximately 20 parents showed up and were informed that starting Dec. 17, the district began locking its classroom doors while classes were in session.

“If someone did get in the building, they would have to force their way into a classroom,” said Lawrence Avenue Elementary Principal Larry B. Jenne, chairman of the district’s Safety Committee.

At both the elementary school and the high school, visitors must be “buzzed into the building.”

At the middle school, visitors walk directly into the building’s office.

“If someone wanted to get in, they would have to fight my secretary,” Middle School Principal James M. Cruikshank said, adding he’s expecting additional security upgrades to be discussed for the middle school in the near future.

“Throughout the years we have increased security in the various buildings,” he said. “Now it’s the middle school’s turn.”

Should an incident at the school ever happen, Potsdam juvenile aid officer Matthew A. Seymour said, police would be there within 30 seconds to two minutes.

“And that’s if we’re on the other side of the village,” he said, referring to the longer of the two times.

“Our school is safe. It’s probably one of the safest places to be,” Mr. Jenne said. “When these kids walk in the building, they are like our kids.”

Student safety is the first concern given Parishville-Hopkinton Central school’s “in loco parentis” responsibilities, Superintendent Darin P. Saiff said.

School administrators, along with law enforcement agencies, continue to collaborate in an effort to improve the district’s safety drills and procedures, he said.

“Both the New York State Police and the St. Lawrence County sheriff’s office have provided a visible presence in our school each day this week, and we are thankful for their assistance,” Mr. Saiff said before the Christmas break. “We will continue to provide the safest environment possible for our students through education and practice.”

At Morristown Central School, Superintendent David J. Glover said the school is walking a fine line between maintaining a sense of openness and ensuring security.

“It’s a balance between being family friendly and community oriented, but at the time we want to keep our kids safe. It’s a gentle balance,” Mr. Glover said.

All doors are locked at Morristown during the day and the only point of access is the main entrance that is monitored by a security camera and the main office secretary.

“Right now it’s just making sure that the rules we have in place are enforced,” Mr. Glover said. “Teachers are encouraged to teach with their doors locked.”

Additionally, Mr. Glover said, he hopes to install a buzzer system on the front entrance during a future building project. He isn’t sure when that might happen, but said security upgrades will be a high priority when it does.

Clifton-Fine Central School, Star Lake, reviewed its security plan last week, internally and with state police, who gave it high marks, interim Superintendent Susan O. Shene said.

“It’s been very nice to have law enforcement here as a proactive measure,” she said.

The district may tweak its plan by increasing the number of safety drills it has annually as a way to keep security fresh in the minds of staff and students and to determine whether changes should be made, she said.

Colton-Pierrepont Central School Superintendent Joseph A. Kardash said his school also has been consulting with state police.

“Retired New York state trooper and school resource officer (Kenneth) “Juddy” Plumb offered some valuable expertise and perspective to the Board of Education members on Wednesday concerning safety. He offered some insightful suggestions that are being implemented,” Mr. Kardash said.

At Gouverneur Central School, the district has monthly staff meetings to review its safety plan.

At the October meeting, administrators decided to update the key card access for doors that require a card with a computer bar code for admittance. The software update will let cards be turned off and on automatically. For example, if a card is lost, its access can be turned off so security is not compromised and turned back on if the card is found.

The staff has become more vigilant generally in reaction to the Sandy Hook incident.

“It just tightens up,” Superintendent Lauren F. French said. “It’s another level of security.”

Madrid-Waddington Central School had a two-hour delay Monday to review its security protocol and prepare for students’ safety concerns.

In the coming months, administrators and the Board of Education plan to review and make changes to safety procedures.

Parents no longer will be allowed to drop their children off at their classrooms, and Madrid-Waddington is considering placing a security guard at its front door.

“This person will probably already be on our staff,” Superintendent Lynn M. Roy said. “It would just be one more deterrent. As we all learned last week, any additional obstacles we can put in the way could help save lives.”

While the board acknowledged incidents such as Sandy Hook are rare, they think the review of the district’s safety protocol was necessary.

“Unfortunately, schools weren’t designed for this; they were designed to be institutions of learning,” Mrs. Roy said. “But the important thing is to not forget how we feel right now. ... We have to put the safety of our students first.”

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