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December 17. 2012 10:00PM

Police, school officials try to reassure Seacoast students


To help reassure area residents, Farmington Police Chief Kevin Willey greeted students and parents arriving at Valley View Community School and Farmington High School Monday morning. (JOHN QUINN PHOTO)

FARMINGTON - Following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last week, police and school officials around the area attempted to be more vigilant while remaining calm Monday.

Using an automatic message system, Superintendent Steve Welford notified Farmington and Middleton parents Sunday evening that police would be outside Farmington's four schools when students were being dropped off and picked up. Welford said students would have access to counselors, if needed, and that police would help review and update the safety policies.

He stressed that there was no threat to local schools and this was just to "make people feel safe."

Police Chief Kevin Willey, who was stationed outside two schools, said he received a lot of positive feedback from students, parents and grandparents who visited the schools Monday.

"This was just an enhanced presence today," Willey said, adding police are normally around schools in the morning and afternoon to ensure traffic flows smoothly. "There was a certain degree of fear and anxiety," Willey said.

Willey said one resident expressed concern - on the department's Facebook page - about the police presence at the schools.

"It was fairly lengthy - I took time to respond," Willey said, adding most people waved or thanked officers.

Willey said he would talk to school officials about whether police would continue their enhanced presence more this week.

Meanwhile, police plan to visit schools throughout Rochester this week, according to Superintendent Michael Hopkins. Hopkins, who sent an email to parents, said the district is trying to focus on keeping "everything normal" while being ready to assist those who may need additional support or counseling.

In Dover, Superintendent Jean Briggs Badger said police were posted near the city's three elementary schools Monday, but officers used a friendly, "low-key" approach.

"We want the message out that our schools are safe," Briggs Badger said.

Briggs Badger said she has been in touch with her principals during the weekend and provided them with a list of additional resources. She also sent a letter to parents explaining how the district conducted a safety review in 2010 and has been working on making the facilities even safer since.

"Dover's actually in good shape," Briggs Badger said.Briggs Badger said the district currently uses "buzz-in" systems to gain access to the middle and high school, has installed cameras in all schools, conducts monthly drills in school and regularly trains for emergencies - like a potential shooter - with police and firefighters.

Following the incident in Connecticut, police and firefighters contacted the school district to reassure officials that procedures were in place and ready, if needed. Police Capt. William Breault said emergency personnel and school officials prepare for a variety of critical emergencies and met about a month ago to discuss how to reacts to an "active shooter."

"I don't know if anyone can prepare for something of this magnitude," Breault said, adding he heard of no incidents of panic at the schools Friday.

While Breault would not divulge specifics about the drills, he said training enables participants to identify any deficiencies in procedures and allows the plan to be refined, if needed.

In Somersworth, Superintendent Jeni Mosca - who also supervises Rollinsford students in the city - coordinated with police Friday and told administrators to remain vigilant as a precaution.

"It's just a matter of reassuring everyone that procedures are in place," Mosca said, adding although a few parents picked their children up early, there were no issues.

jquinn@newstote.com


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