GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 24, 2013

Petition seeks security guards for city schools

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Placing an armed security guard, possibly a police officer, in each of Gloucester’s schools is the goal of a petition drawn up and circulated by a Gloucester mother of three. And, in less than 10 days, more than 200 residents have signed on.

Tough petition opponents call the measure dangerous and unnecessary, petition author Amanda Kesterson, shaken by the December Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, said she she sensed a need to increase security in Gloucester’s schools, and felt sharing her idea can at least spark a conversation on the topic.

”I’m just a mom and I’m scared and concerned, and I want my kids to be safe,” Kesterson said. “I want all of Gloucester’s children to be safe.

”I’m not an expert on security, so I can’t speak to the absolute best situation,” she said. “But there might be something I haven’t even though of that’s better.”

Kesterson said she is simply pressing for some change.

”All of the measures we have taken seem to me to be reactive, rather than proactive,” Kesterson said. “Having a crisis prevention plan doesn’t prevent a crisis any more than having a fire drill plan prevents a fire.”

City Councilor Bruce Tobey, one of two councilors who responded to an email Kesterson wrote to councilors Dec. 19, requesting a public discussion on the topic, said he undamentally opposes the idea.

“Guns don’t belong in schools in a city like Gloucester,” Tobey said. “I would vigorously organize and contest any move that was taken by the school department in that direction.”

Tobey added, however, that he is certainly willing to listen to a public hearing on the topic, and he encourages a dialogue. And that dialogue will be had if at least 150 of the signatures on Kesterson’s petition are verifiable and presented to city councilors, according to the city charter that calls for a public hearing in that case.

“I will listen but it’s not going to change my mind,” Tobey said. “This is so fundamental, but I do think it’s a dialogue worth having.”

City officials said that police have done building checks at schools and the Department of Public Works has repaired doors and checked alarms at all of the city schools.

Gloucester Public Schools superintendent Richard Safier said that, in the wake of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, he and other school officials have been researching and studying the issue “very closely.”

”Everyone in the community is concerned about the safety of our children and the type of environment they’re exposed to on a daily basis,” Safier said.

Safier said he was not in a position to comment directly on the petition, but did add, “You have to ask the question what is the balance between safety and emotional security.”

Police Chief Leonard Campanello refrained from commenting specifically on the petition, but said the department is “looking into all possibilities to proactively address school violence.”

Another city councilor, Bob Whynott, said he’s not pushing for armed guards himself. But he added he would still support the increased public safety that he said would stem from stationing armed guards, possibly in plainclothes, at local schools.

”Public safety, until you have enough of it, is the No. 1 priority over everything else,” Whynott said. “We’ve got to protect our kids and our people. I doubt if it’ll happen here, but if the school department wanted to do that I wouldn’t oppose it. I’m not proposing it, but I wouldn’t oppose it either.”

Whynott said he would first like to see procedures and technologies implemented, like metal detectors in the schools.

”There are interim steps that haven’t happened here,” Whynott said. “You walk before you run.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.