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December 20. 2012 11:02AM

Tragedy prompts fresh look at safety in Bedford schools

BEDFORD - The focus has been on safety and security at local schools following the massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.

Kenneth Williams, principal of Peter Woodbury Elementary School in Bedford, said school administrators met with staff on Monday morning, Dec. 17, despite a two-hour delay due to inclement weather, to discuss the school’s level of response to students when they resumed classes.

“Our big thing is to be very visible, give hugs and be there for kids if they’re having trouble with the incident,” Williams said.

Williams said the district has received a flood of information about how to respond to children’s questions, and at the elementary level, he said younger students need simple, truthful answers that always point back to their safety. He also stressed the importance of students keeping their regular school routines.

“We want our staff to really impress on the kids that they’re safe at our school,” he said.

Williams said there are safety measures in place at Peter Woodbury, including a system where all visitors must ring a buzzer to be let into the building.

All staff must wear badges so that they can be easily identified, and parents and volunteers must also wear visitor tags.

“Everyone has some visible sign that they’ve been cleared through the office,” he said.

In Goffstown, meanwhile, SAU 19 Superintendent Stacy Buckley said the district has a strong emergency management plan in place, drills are practiced monthly and a good relationship with the Goffstown Police Department ensures the highest level of safety for students.

“We have good, safe schools,” Buckley said.

Buckley said she communicated with all building staff on Sunday, Dec. 16, via email, providing them with online links and information about how to talk with children of different ages, and sent an email to parents, providing guidance to them if they chose to talk to their children about the events in Newtown last Friday.

Teachers on Monday were able to speak to their classes in an age-appropriate way, depending on whether students asked any questions about the tragedy.

“In general, we didn’t have tons and tons of kids upset,” she said, adding that guidance counselors were on hand to address any student concerns.

In a Dec. 16 blog post on the district’s website, SAU 25 Superintendent Timothy Mayes also stressed the safety measures in place in Bedford.

“As we head back to school this week, I want students and parents to know that the administration and staff will do our best to ensure the emotional and physical safety of ‘our’ children,” he wrote.

Mayes said schools have installed security systems to limit and monitor access to buildings, installed direct emergency notification systems to the Bedford police and regularly practice emergency drills, including lockdowns and so-called secure-in-place exercises with students.

“All that said, we realize that no system is perfect,” Mayes said. “However, we have taken and will take appropriate and reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”

Goffstown Police Capt.Robert Browne said all available units were in school zones during both morning and afternoon hours on Monday, and that police were conducting some extra walk-throughs in the schools as well.

“Providing a sense of normalcy would be extremely difficult, but providing a feeling of safety is most important,” he said.

Buckley said there was no direct threat to students, and the district worked with police to choose the best course of action.

“We both agreed that having that extra presence would make parents and teachers feel more secure,” she said.

In terms of emergency planning, Buckley said students practice monthly drills, whether for fire, lockdown or shelter-in-place, so that students know what to do in an emergency, and works with the police and fire departments to make improvements.

“After the drills, they help us with identifying what went well, and what could be improved,” Buckley said. “We’re continually refining our plans.”

School Board Chairman Philip Pancoast said while the district utilizes a wide variety of emergency plans, “this is the one we don’t want to have happen.”

Pancoast said budget items such as upgrades to walkie-talkies support the district’s emergency management plans.

“We need a manner of communication that works when all other forms of communication aren’t functioning,” he said.

Buckley said the district regularly looks at its emergency management plans in order to be sure they are ingrained into staff and students.

“We never want to be comfortable,” she said. “We always want to be prepared."

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