, Gloucester, MA

March 26, 2013

Letter: Time to stand up for better school safety

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

I have read the two “My View” pieces written by Schools Superintendent Richard Safier (the Times, Saturday/Monday, March 23/25).

He notes that the NRA has advocated for school resource officers(trained police) to be placed in every school in the wake of Sandy Hook. He fails, however, to note that President Obama has also called for school resource officers in every school.

At no point does Superintendent Safier address the threat to our children of an armed assailant as occurred in Sandy Hook. This is the threat that President Obama has recognized; it is the purpose of every parent’s concern and the reason for the public hearing.

In the 35 years that I have been an attorney, I have seen enormous changes in security at courthouses. When I began, there was little to no security. There was no screening or police presence. All that changed on 9/11/01.

The world is indeed different. I am a member of the Gloucester Planning Board. We recently dealt with a very contentious issue concerning zoning to facilitate the building of a beachfront hotel. While the project has significant community support, many citizens oppose the very idea.

At a public hearing, the Kyrouz auditorium at City Hall was packed with both proponents and opponents of the plan. The joint public hearing of the Planning Board and a committee of the City Council listened for many hours until every citizen who wished to be heard spoke. The participants were protected by five to six police officers. All who participated were concerned citizens and representatives of individuals and businesses.

Police protection is routine and necessary in our community. Our politicians, judges, and lawyers all routinely seek and are given protection. Why not our children?

It has been suggested that having a professionally trained safety officer at our schools might “militarize” our schools and scare the children. Yet, every parade that our children attend has police security, as does the St. Peter’s Fiesta.

We have learned that our city has nearly $5 million in “free cash.” Of course, that money belongs to the taxpayers, but it is clear that neither the mayor nor City Council is interested in returning that money to the taxpayers. Thus, we must set priorities for its use.

The City Council, citing the “free cash” recently voted itself a raise (with benefits they each now received over $25,000 per year, for a total cost to Gloucester taxpayers of over $300,000 per year). The council also voted a 33 percent raise for the mayor.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, where 20 students and six teachers were killed in their elementary school, by an armed assailant, over 340 parents and citizens of Gloucester have called on the School Committee, City Council and mayor to place a police officer in each school. This request has been met with every roadblock that city government could throw in their path. Yet, our city prioritizes increasing the salaries of our local politicians. Why?

We are told that the cost would be $500,000 per year or 1/10th of the “free cash.” Are our children not worth being protected? We have heard arguments that a trained police officer would not offer protection. Really? Does that make sense? When every judge, mayor and scores of politicians have exactly that security. While nothing is 100 percent, to do nothing in light of Columbine, Sandy Hook etc. is simply irresponsible.

Newtown, Conn., is a community much like Gloucester. It has four elementary schools, a middle school and a high school. Prior to the attack a single security officer moved from school to school. Sadly, on that fateful day, he was in another building. Today, Newtown has armed security in every school. The people of Newtown know the price of inaction; 20 children and six teachers are dead. We have been warned, we have the money, but do we have the will?

On Wednesday at 7 p.m., the people of Gloucester will have the opportunity to address our School Committee at a public hearing to be held at West Parish School. I understand a number of city councilors will also be present.

We must speak with a strong and determined voice. Our children are worth protecting. Gloucester’s children need us to demand that protection. Be clear, there are powerful forces in city government, working to deny our children a safe learning environment. Our children need their parents and other concerned citizens to be present to guarantee that Gloucester will heed the lessons learned at Sandy Hook.

Security will not be provided unless we demand it in large numbers.