Last week, the news of a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, CT shocked the country as reports confirmed that 26 people were killed by a lone gunman. Of those 26 killed, 20 of them were first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to reports, the shooter – 20-year-old Adam Lanza – broke into the school through a window, circumventing the school’s security systems and locked doors.
Communities across the country began to wonder, “Could it happen here?”
In North Kingstown it was no different, as principals, teachers and administrators received emails from concerned parents throughout town. According to School Superintendent Phil Auger, each school is beginning to take a closer look at safety and security in the wake of the tragedy.
Each school has a crisis response plan covering a number of scenarios – fires, evacuations, severe weather, medical emergencies, power failures, crimes, bomb threats and even shootings. By state law, all schools practice 15 drills each year, including two evacuation drills and two lockdown drills.
“The lockdown drills are very serious,” said Auger. “I’ve seen students cry, and these were high school students.”
During lockdown drills, each classroom door is locked and students, teachers and staff are to stay quiet and out of sight, huddling down in the corners of the room. Unfortunately, the setup of some schools creates a challenge for administrators.
While most schools have a traditional setup, two of North Kingstown’s schools host an open floor plan. At sister schools Stony Lane and Suzanne M. Henseler Quidnessett Elementary School, most classrooms are in one giant “open” classroom, separated by dividers. Even schools with the traditional setup have some doors that only lock from the outside, posing yet another challenge.
Over the past few years, North Kingstown schools have started to lock all exterior doors into the building. During school hours, visitors can only enter the school after being buzzed in by a clerk at the main office, who monitors the doors via surveillance cameras. But, with the number of entrances into a school, the task of monitoring each entryway can be daunting.
“At the high school, you have 1,600 students and 150 staff and faculty members,” said Auger. "That’s a lot of in and out in that building.”
North Kingstown High School Principal Tom Kenworthy and his staff have been discussing a way to better control who enters the school.
“One of the things we’re really assessing following Newtown is going to a procedure where we ask people to go through the main entrance no matter what,” said Kenworthy. “We’re going to be looking at the feasibility of that.”
Another area of discussion has been adding more police officers at schools. Currently, North Kingstown High School is the only school in the district with a student resource officer (SRO). But, putting an officer at each school could be a costly endeavor.
“I like the idea, but you have to determine how effective it would be,” said Auger. “It would also be an enormous price tag for the district.”
After winter break in January, Auger says he will be meeting with every principal and Police Chief Mulligan (who visited each school this week to talk with principals) to discuss safety measures at each school.
“There’s nothing that’s going to be perfect,” said Auger. “There’s nothing that’s going to solve every problem.”
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