By KAITLYN NAPLES
In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School recently, Bristol school officials and the Board of Education said they felt there was a need for “immediate response to let the public know we have a plan in place,” board Chairman Chris Wilson said.
Last Thursday, the board held a forum for parents to learn about the safety measures already in place at the schools in Bristol, and what officials on both the city and school level are doing to enhance security to keep children and adults safe.
“We have a charge to make sure we protect those who can’t protect themselves,” Wilson said at last week’s presentation, adding the board is working with the superintendent, mayor and city police to see what else can be done to be even more thorough in the schools safety operations.
Police Chief Tom Grimaldi said he has been meeting with school and city officials since Friday, Dec. 14 to come up with plans on how to handle the situation and how to increase safety at the schools. On Monday, police officers were present at the schools in Bristol to calm the fears of children and adults, as well as to take just one more step to make sure everyone was safe.
“It is of the utmost importance to us to protect our children and adults,” Grimaldi said.
Superintendent of Schools Ellen Solek explained to parents the plans already in place in the Bristol School District.
Each school practices lock-down and evacuation drills on a regular basis so that students, teachers and staff are aware of where they need to go and what they need to do incase of an emergency. There are three resource officers available to the district, one at each high school and another that is available for all of the other schools. Each school has surveillance that monitors the property, as well as a buzzer system at the entrance of the buildings that requires someone in the main office to allow that person in. Then, that person is required to go straight to the main office to check-in.
Many parents and school staff spoke at the presentation, including retired teacher Angela Stortz who substitutes sometimes. She said substitutes need to be brought up on safety plans in place and protocols because they are rotating and not in the same school on a daily basis.
Solek said the schools have been instructed to provide every substitute with a folder containing information on procedures in place and what measures to take, and will require them to read and sign off on the information. She added there also will be training for substitutes on the local, and most likely the state level as well. Another parent added that substitutes need name tags and should be required to check in with the main office and prove who they are and who they are subbing for that day.
Looking toward the future, Solek said, the district will be increasing its use of technology to improve communication and surveillance between all of its schools. There will be a district-wide School Safety Coordinator, who will coordinate safety and security efforts in all of the schools in Bristol and look at what needs to be updated. There also will be a city-wide, regional-school safety task force, expected to form in January, that will “walk every inch of every school” to make sure nothing is missing and to see what other safety measures can be taken. There will also be monthly school safety inventory and assessments done to look at equipment in the schools, doors and windows being locked, and more.
Solek said not only does the district take physical action to keep students safe, but there are also other plans in place to make sure students are safe emotionally and socially. Every school takes part in a Positive Behavior Intervention Support plan to create positive school environments. There are also counseling outlets, advisory and mentoring programs and classroom management to teach students how to positively interact with one another.
“We need to also keep the hearts and health of our students and faculty in mind,” Solek said.
“Bristol will do everything within its power,” Mayor Art Ward said in part, “To ensure, as much as you and me possible, the safety of our children and adults within our school system.”
The board was taking all of the suggestions parents made last week and taking them into consideration when coming up with more ways to keep the children and faculty safe at each and every school in Bristol. Parents also expressed that they were thankful the board decided to hold the safety presentation last Thursday evening.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver. com.
By KAITLYN NAPLES