NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) _ Student safety was just about all anyone wanted to talk about Monday, the first day of school since Friday’s shooting massacre in Newtown in which 26 were killed.
At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting in New Britain, where two police officers were in attendance and an overflow crowd listened attentively, board Chairwoman Sharon Beloin-Saavedra started the meeting dedicating the session to the 20 students and six teachers who were killed Friday morning.
“Mere words will not express our sorrow,” said Beloin-Saavedra, “but I want to assure everyone we will do everything we can to keep our students and our staff safe in New Britain.”
Toward that end, New Britain police have stepped up their visibility at all city schools and will continue for as long as “we deem necessary,” interim Police Chief James Wardwell said Monday.
Wardwell said some of his officers volunteered their time to go to Newtown to help local police there. “We’re all devastated,” he said Monday.
Meanwhile, Paul Salina, chief operating officer for the New Britain School District, sent a message to all staff to read before school started Monday, in which he said, in part:
“I want you to know that the safety and security of students and staff is a daily concern for all of us. Over the last several years, many protocols have been put into place to secure our buildings yet maintain the focus of students and families in an inviting, open atmosphere. Lock down drills are common in all school districts and our Police Department reviews these drills in our schools. We will work with the Police Department and other security agencies to ensure we are doing everything possible to keep people safe.
“I urge you all to review school emergency plans and directives.
“Every day is precious to all of us. Working together, we will continue to do the important job of educating our students in an environment that is conducive to education and yet as safe as we can make it,” said Salina.
Beatriz and Ryan Pytel of New Britain talked about the shooting as they picked up their 10-year-old son, Madizon, at Gaffney Elementary School Monday afternoon.
Beatriz Pytel said, “Madizon watched the news with us all weekend as there were updates. We want him to know what is going on. They need to do something in the schools. They need a cop in every school, not just in high schools, and they need metal detectors. Madizon wasn’t worried about going to school today, but we did think we would see police today (outside of Gaffney at dismissal).”
In neighboring Berlin Monday, officers routinely walked through the schools as part of their patrol assignments but they have stepped up their efforts since Friday, Deputy Chief John Klett said. “We are working with the Board of Education and have increased our presence at the schools including the private and parochial schools,” Klett said. “We will continue for the immediate future.”
In Newington, Superintendent of Schools Bill Collins visited all seven schools in town Monday, where police presence was also put in place for the morning arrival.
While one school in town had nine students absent, attendance was “average” according to school officials, who have had stringent security measures in place for a number of years.
“I reminded principals to make sure we are vetting all of our visitors as they are coming to all of our schools, and all our doors have been locked,” Collins said Monday afternoon after
returning from his visits.
“We drill, we plan, and what happened in Newtown is just so outside of the realm of anything anybody can comprehend.”
In Southington, officers who had schools in their normal patrol district were assigned to doing directed patrols surrounding and in the areas of the schools, Sgt. Jeffrey Dobratz said. Traffic officers were assigned to do foot patrols inside the schools and support staff was also out providing a “presence” at the schools Monday throughout the day, he said. “This morning I talked to a few people and they were glad to see us there,” Dobratz said.
“They were glad of the police presence.”
In Plainville, where plans are in place to have a vigil for the Newtown victims Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Plainville Fire Department, school officials took several precautions.
Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Kitching said he and Assistant Superintendent Maureen Brummett visited all five public schools Monday and everything, they said, including attendance levels, seemed normal. The only change was that police officers have been stationed at each school during arrival and dismissal times, a measure that Kitching said he worked out over the weekend with Police Chief Matthew Catania. It will be in place “for the
foreseeable future,” he added.
At the high school and middle schools, students began the day with a moment of silence. The elementary schools did not because, Kitching said, the younger students might not be aware of the incident or may not know how to process it.
Kitching said all schools in town kept all doors locked during the day and the only way in was at the main entrance, where there is a surveillance camera. Guests must ring the doorbell and the staff looks at the image on the camera and determines if the personis expected. If they are, an employee in the office presses a button that opens the door. The images from the camera are stored in case they are needed in the future.
In addition, Kitching said for the past few weeks, school officials have been meeting with police and a private school-security company to discuss ways to upgrade security at the schools.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)