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December 17. 2012 11:24PM

Superintendent: Manchester schools will review security

MANCHESTER - Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan said the district has made counselors available to students and will be reviewing its security procedures in response to the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Brennan made his comments during a break at Monday's special meeting of the Board of School Committee. Board members rejected a public discussion of the issue, since it wasn't on the agenda. Under the rules for special meetings, only items on the official agenda may be discussed.

"We all met with staff prior to the students' arrival (Monday) on how to approach it, and we had counselling available," Brennan said in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Brennan added that he and the two assistant superintendents visited all the schools in the district on Monday.

He said it was left to the discretion of teachers if they wanted to bring up the shooting.

"The students would take the lead," he said, adding that a letter was sent home to parents. A letter was also posted on the district's website about ways parents can discuss the shooting with their kids.

Brennan said a meeting would be held Wednesday with all school principals to review emergency response routines and to assess safety drills conducted in recent years.

"I visited seven schools today," he said. "The tenor in the buildings was positive. The teachers did a spectacular job being upbeat, and the kids were happy."

Most of Monday's meeting was taken up by the discussion of a list of school building projects and the 2014 budget.

Late in the meeting, however, board member Jason Cooper insisted district officials address safety measures in response to the Friday's massacre.

"We're so concerned with arbitrary rules, we don't want to inform our public what's going on in our schools and the steps our administrators are taking to keep kids safe," Cooper said. "The entire city and world are talking about this. That's what I thought I'd be talking about here today, not about budget numbers and the cost of pencils."

In response, Mayor Ted Gatsas said he understood Cooper's concern. "But there are people here saying it's a special meeting and 'Robert's Rules say,'" he said, referring to Robert's Rules of Order, which govern school and aldermanic meetings. "I know there are some people here in this room who chastised me for not allowing people to speak."

Gatsas was referring to a recent school board meeting with the Candia board, which he adjourned without a public comment period, citing those rules.

Several board members agreed on Monday that it would be inappropriate to deviate from Robert's Rules. Board member Art Beaudry said he would be willing to have a special meeting the next day on the district's response to the shooting.

It was the second time in the evening that Cooper, who does not attend meetings with the same regularity as other members of the board, brought up the issue of school safety.

Cooper also raised the issue when the board was debating the list of school building projects. One faction of the board wanted to approve a list of $4.6 million in projects, including the construction of a new preschool.

The projects would be bonded and paid for with savings brought by the district's energy efficiency improvements. They would also be dependent on state aid, which has yet to be finalized.

Mayor Gatsas, the original proponent of taking on additional school improvements because of the success of the efficiency program, had proposed $3 million in building projects.

The board ultimately voted, unanimously, to go with Gatsas' more modest $3 million proposal.

Cooper made a motion to designate some of the money toward school security improvements, such as bullet-proof glass and security doors.

The board ultimately voted to back a motion from Beaudry to have the issue first addressed in committee. "I don't want shoot from the hip here. We all feel pain from this, but let's find out what are the needs first," he said.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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