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January 22. 2013 10:10PM

Manchester's school board talks security in private

MANCHESTER - A school board committee on Tuesday took the unusual step of invoking a special clause under the state's open meeting law to go behind closed doors to discuss school security.

Members of the Building and Sites committee began a planned discussion of security measures and possible shortcomings in light of last month's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., but the meeting was cut short.

After first going into non-public session without explanation, committee Chairman John Avard said the meeting was being closed to the public on the grounds of a special clause in Chapter 91-A, the state's open meeting law.

The clause exempts governmental meetings "relating to the preparation for and the carrying out of emergency functions, including training to carry out such functions, developed by local or state safety officials that are directly intended to thwart a deliberate act that is intended to result in widespread or severe damage to property or widespread injury or loss of life."

During a break from the meeting, Superintendent Thomas Brennan said he requested that the discussion be held behind closed doors.

"I was concerned about how deep we drill into these measures publicly," he said.

Manchester has taken up the issue of school security with less urgency than other districts since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. On Tuesday, aldermen in Nashua unanimously voted to approve a $2.4 million bond to pay for upgrades to control school access.

Prior to the adjournment of the school board meeting, district safety coordinator Ron Robidas discussed general safety procedures at city schools, and he identified several shortcomings, such as outdated cameras and faulty intercoms at buildings and the need to update emergency response plans.

"Most of the cameras we have are analog. As we go through, we should replace them with digital high-definition cameras," he said. "We already have them in some city facilities, including the new municipal complex."

Robidas also noted that administrators at Manchester High School Central are particularly concerned about public access to the school.

"Central has always been a challenge because of the layout of the campus," Robidas said. "The administrators would like to have the capacity to better screen out visitors to the school."

Brennan said schools have continued to execute regular safety drills, but he said he will be meeting with school leaders to develop a unified emergency response plan. "The goal is to have one language for the plans, and we are on top of that. We've been conducting drills. Unfortunately because of what happened in Newtown, it's caused us to focus even more on this."

The subcommittee only discussed security measures; no motions were made concerning the issue.

The subcommittee did however, move on a number of other items on its agenda, including the approval of its list of preferred building projects it will send to the aldermen for the next fiscal year. Topping the list is a slate of energy efficiency and deferred maintenance projects.

tsiefer@unionleader.com

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