School security gets fresh look

MANCHESTER - After the tragic and disturbing event that occurred in Newtown, Conn. last Friday, school safety has been a leading topic of discussion for local schools.

"The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School is horrifying beyond description. The apocalypse arrives for a helpless, innocent group of first graders, and it shakes to our very core the notion of humanity. The pain in that community is unimaginable right now," said headmaster of Burr and Burton Academy Mark Tashjian.

On Monday, BBA had their usual morning assembly where the topic of conversation centered around what happened in Newtown. There was a moment of silence for the victims lost. Tashjian also said during the assembly that their flags will fly at half mast as directed by President Barack Obama.

As this event has brought to the forefront the notion of school safety, BBA has made extra strides to keep awareness high for those individuals who may be suffering.

The notion that we must look out for each other is something Tashjian believes can be the true way to prevent such strategies from happening in our area.

"Sadly, this is not the first school shooting, it is only the most recent," said Tashjian. "Each incident reminds us of the importance of preparedness, but even more so, it reminds us of the importance that we look out for each other, reach out to those who are disenfranchised, and find support and treatment for the mentally ill. Prevention through a network of caring relationships is by far our greatest defense."

When asked if there is a concern that the open campus of BBA may be more unsafe due to its easy accessibly, Tashjian stressed the importance of mental health treatment.

"Those with closed campuses worry about their fortress becoming a prison. Those with open campuses have the benefit - and the liability - of multiple entry and exit points," he said. "If a deranged person wants to inflict harm, I don't know that either type of facility is 'better'. Again, the best defense is mental health intervention."

The health clinic at BBA is available to students, faculty and staff who are struggling to cope with the situation. Along with providing direct emotional support, BBA can refer students to outside mental health providers and other resources as needed.

BBA will also provide the opportunity for students, faculty and staff to write notes and send thoughts to the Sandy Hook Elementary School to provide those you have experienced this tragedy first hand with some emotional support.

The Manchester Elementary Middle School is taking another course is dealing with the Newtown tragedy. Because of the age range it is more appropriate to keep the children in their normal routines said Sarah Merrill, principal of MEMS.

"One of the most important things is to keep the normal routine for kids," she said. "We did have a moment of silence [on Monday] at a honors assembly, but that was sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. As of now with the holidays around the corner and the heightened anxiety in schools anyway, we are trying to keep it just as normal as we can keep it."

Merrill also believes that MEMS is well prepared for crisis because they have a team in place to handle these types of issues.

"The BRSU, a few years ago, formed a crisis team and what they did was develop a BRSU-wide crisis team. We also have our own crisis team here at school that consists of administration and guidance counselors," she said. "We are constantly reviewing our school crisis plan. We work very close with the Town of Manchester. We have crisis drills every month. Fire drills, clear the halls, lock-down, secure the building, and evacuation. We practice all but evacuation because we evacuate off grounds."

Daniel French, the superintendent of the Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union, said that school security will be an important priority in upcoming school board meetings as the boards take steps to review their policies.

"We have five schools, we are working to how we want to respond to our communities. Starting on Monday we did a revisiting of our security plan. That will be ongoing work in the next month or so," French said. "I think as each board meets this month I'm sure this will be an item on all their agendas and will look for opportunities to improve school security."


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