As students return to class today for the first time following Friday’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., administrators in the Buffalo Niagara region said they plan to take an intense, renewed look at their existing school security plans.
As more details become known, administrators said, they’ll be stacking up their current plans against whatever potential weaknesses come to light from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 first-graders and six educators were killed.
“The Incident Coordination Team will be going over all of our protocols, and, very specifically, we will be going over the security equipment and materials that are in our facilities,” said Will Keresztes, associate superintendent for educational services with the Buffalo Public Schools.
Though the city schools already have surveillance cameras, buzzers and staff swipe cards, he said, “We want to double-check that that is sufficient.”
Though it’s hard to imagine what more may be needed to prevent a Newtown-like tragedy from happening here, he said, districts are obligated to look.
“We’re always trying to figure out the gaps that need to be closed,” he said. “We know that there’s more that we can do. At this point, I have to tell you, I feel we have a very secure system. We have a very generous level of police security in our district.”
Keresztes said he’s also going to reach out to the parent leaders at each of the city schools. They might be the best observers of what a school’s security weaknesses are, he said.
“That’s an incredible asset that has to be harnessed,” he said.
Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said Sunday that he was satisfied with the district’s security plans, which the organization was allowed to review, and pleased that the parent group had been consulted.
“No school administration has included us like this in my experience going back to 2006,” he said. “That was a plus.”
“For the deaths not to be in vain, the school district – and really the entire country – needs to learn from this and do what it can to prevent such tragedies,” Radford said.
If there is any concern about the district’s plans, Radford said, it is over the potential for security measures that are too overt to create a sense of constant danger and make students and parents feel less secure.
“We need to make sure that the school feels like a learning environment and not a jail,” he said.
Radford noted that in the inner city, deaths of young people from gun violence occur frequently. He said the community must show concern for every life that is lost.
“What we saw happen all at once in Connecticut, we see regularly, one at a time, in urban settings,” he said. “Security is one means to prevent it, but so is making sure kids get a quality education.”
Donald A. Ogilvie, superintendent of Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said he expects that the emergency response teams in every area school district will meet this week in light of the tragedy to see how their existing security plans can be updated.
Ogilvie recommended that districts participate in school lockdown drills to make sure everyone understands how the drills work, who’s in charge, and how to communicate in such circumstances.
The area’s Catholic schools also are taking another look at their security procedures.
“School security and safety is a priority in our diocese, but we will review our policies and procedures again in light of this terrible slaughter of innocent children and adults,” Bishop Richard J. Malone said in an emailed news release Sunday.
Grand Island Superintendent Robert W. Christmann said the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School did a lot to transform the way schools approach security. So will the Newtown tragedy.
“This is a defining moment; it really is,” he said. “We need to take this to the next level and make sure there’s no possible way there’s going to be a repeat of what happened.
As a former junior high school principal in Danbury, Conn., he said, the Newtown shootings are a personal wake-up call.
“It goes to show that there’s no place anywhere that is without the potential of a tragedy,” he said. “There’s no safe place. That’s why you always have to do the best you can to prepare. The age of innocence is gone. We need to work on understanding that it can happen here.”
News Staff Reporter Henry L. Davis contributed to this report.