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January 10. 2013 10:49PM

Nashua parents, officials discuss school safety

NASHUA - Nearly 100 people attended a meeting Thursday night called by district and city officials in response to concerns about security in the city's schools after last month's shooting in Newtown, Conn.

"I don't think bringing more guns into schools is the answer," Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said, drawing applause from the crowd. "You bring in first responders. Teachers are not gun professionals."

The school board chairman, police and fire chiefs and the city's emergency management director were also at the meeting.

Police Chief John Seusing expressed his opposition to teachers carrying guns.

"The last thing that I would want is if I was a police officer going into a school, if I see someone with a gun, how do I knew whether this is a bad guy or a teacher?"

Seusing also said the department doesn't have the resources to have an officer at the district's 17 school buildings.

Superintendent Mark Conrad agreed with the mayor, saying arming teachers would be an accident waiting to happen.

"You'd have a student grab a gun ... from a teacher," he said, adding: "If you're not a highly trained professional, innocent people can be hurt."

Radhika Gogia, mother of two elementary students, questioned whether boosting security and training teachers could actually deter a shooter.

"The thing that has happened at Sandy Hook has really scared us," she said. "I don't really feel like sending my kids to schools. Even if the principals and the staff are trained, in front of a gun nobody can do anything."

Sonia Prince raised the issue of gun control.

"If those weapons are readily available - not all gun owners are great gun owners and 500 kids die of accidental gun deaths every year - people have access to them, unfortunately," Prince said.

"At some point will any of your departments take a stand on ... the Second Amendment right and how far should it go?" she asked.

Seusing responded that New Hampshire is very liberal when it comes to the Second Amendment, which protects the right to bear arms.

"I don't think the answer is just banning the guns or eliminating them," he said. "Do we need people to have assault rifles and magazines that can hold up to 30 or 40 rounds? That's a very reasonable debate to have."

Seusing said a community effort is required to prevent school tragedies, noting that people often do nothing after noticing alarming behaviors in children.

"That has to change," he said. "Parents have to be vigilant, they have to be aware...But it's really the responsibility of all of us to make that happen."

Bukkiah Golden has two children in city elementary schools.

"I find it curious that we guard our gold with guns and our children with hope," Golden said.

Board of Education Chairman Robert Hallowell said the issue is complex.

"The answer to this problem is that there is no one answer to this problem. It's mental health, it's potentially prescription drugs ... it is looking at gun control, it's looking at physical security of the school. It's doing all those things in a sensible way."

Conrad said the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School was a watershed moment and increased collaboration between schools and police.

"These are plans that are designed to respond to any range of emergency that may occur," he said.

Conrad spoke of recent efforts to allow the elementary and middle schools to lock main entrances during class hours, as well as install superior locks on doors. But he said an open environment at schools is also of great importance.

"The most important step you can take ... is having a good school climate where every students feels they have an adult in the school community that they can talk to," Conrad said.

srios@newstote.com

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