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Nashua, Manchester students talk about school safety

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 19. 2013 11:30PM

High school students from the state's two largest cities agreed on one thing during interviews last week: They don't feel as safe as education officials may think.

"I think they should add more people, more police, to have more security in the schools,'' said Nate Ratty, 17, a student at Nashua South High School. "That way, I would feel like, whatever happens, we have people there that could help keep us safe. We have two school resource officers at South, but I think we could use a couple more."

Ratty was among 19 students who spoke with reporters as district administrators consider the security at their schools and officials consider whether to ask voters for money to make improvements in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings,

Members of the Boys and Girls Clubs' Keystone Leadership program met with a New Hampshire Union Leader reporter this week at the Stahl Teen Center in Nashua and the Union Street Clubhouse and Teen Center in Manchester to discuss their concerns.

"Safety and Central? That's a good one," said Sarah Georges, 18, a senior at Manchester Central High School. "They are taking it seriously now, since the Newtown shootings, but before anyone could just walk in and out of Central. There's a door by our cafeteria that used to be open all the time. I don't think they ever thought it was an issue until shootings started to happen."

"We also have two security guards, but I really think we need a metal detector, for when people bring stuff like pocket knives or BB guns in," said Chris Infante, 15, a student at Nashua North. He said he has seen students with both pocket knives and bb guns in the school, though he hasn't seen them used against anyone.

George Goodwin, 18, a senior at Nashua High, said the security at Nashua High North is adequate, though he's doubtful that it would be effective at preventing a shooter. The fortress-like conditions that would be necessary to prevent such an event would be impossible and impractical, Goodwin said, adding that he doesn't think violence should be stopped by placing armed guards in schools or arming teachers

"This isn't a military state," he said.

He called the National Rifle Association an extremist organization, saying it is "extremely offensive" the NRA's assertion that the solution to gun violence is to increase the presence of guns.

Other students disagree.

"We should have armed officers and metal detectors," said Karina Rodriguez, 15, a Nashua South student. "I would like to see those. Someone could bring anything into school, and they would never find out, because they don't check you. They don't go through our bags or anything. A lot of people bring pocket knives to school and they never find out unless someone starts telling people they have a pocket knife with them."

Students in Manchester weren't quite ready to take security procedures to those extremes.

"I think that would scare people, and I think there would be a lot of false alarms," said Michael Garrity, 16, a student at Manchester Memorial.

"I would like to see more cops in school, but at the same time do we want to put more guns in schools?" asked Brianna Isabelle, 15, a student at Manchester Central. "That puts the weapon in there, and someone could attack the officer and get the gun from them."

The topic of school safety is timely, with officials in both cities holding discussions. In Nashua, aldermen voted to recommend bonding $2.4 million for school security upgrades throughout the district, while in Manchester the district's safety director is due to give a report Tuesday night to the city's Building and Sites Committee about the safety status of Queen City schools.

Danny McMillan, 16, a junior at Manchester West, said he is more worried about a violent act being carried out by someone already inside the school, than by an outsider getting in.

"I think it would more likely be someone in our school doing the shooting, like because they were bullied, than someone coming in and doing it," said McMillan. "But still, no matter what precautions the school takes, if someone wanted to get in that school they would get in. No matter how many doors are locked, no matter how many alarm systems you have there, if someone wants in they are going to get in, no matter what."

Gun control

On the topic of gun control, several students of or approaching voting age said they would support politicians who would back stricter gun controls. Several said they had no interest in owning a gun, but recognized the rights of others to do so.

Goodwin said he would "absolutely vote for a politician who wanted to increase gun control and possibly reforms with mental health, prisons, and other such issues that are linked to gun violence." The former student representative to the Nashua school board said he's completely against owning a firearm personally because, in his opinion, more guns means more violence.

"I don't believe that owning a gun will protect me or those around me," said Goodwin.

Jacob Arikian, 17, a junior at Nashua High North, said he would vote for pro-gun control lawmakers over those who would seek to maintain the status quo.

"If there's less guns in circulation, there's less chance of someone who shouldn't have a gun getting their hands on a gun," Arikian said.

Though he believes it is an American right to own a firearm, Arikian said he's not interested.

"I don't think I'd need one for protection," he said. "I feel like if there were a gun in the house it's more likely to be used (against the homeowner). If there's no gun then none of that can happen."

"I wouldn't buy one, but I think people should be able to have them in their homes, just in case something happens so they can protect themselves," said Ratty. "I don't think you need an assault rifle with extended clips to protect yourself though."

"I think when they try to ban guns, it makes people want to buy them even more," said Desiree Frechette, 15, a student at Nashua South.

New Hampshire Union Leader correspondent Simon Rios contributed to this story.

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