GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 28, 2013

Committee hears divided debate on school security

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — The Gloucester School Committee, taking Police Chief Leonard Campanello’s advice to avoid a “knee-jerk reaction” regarding security in the city’s schools, took under advisement the comments and advice of local parents, school members and residents who spoke at a hearing Wednesday night, but did not make any decision regarding any new safety upgrades.

“The school committee will continue to work on these issues. We take them very seriously. We have a good record of all the information we’ve received tonight,” School Committee Chairman Jonathan Pope said following a hearing hosted by the community at West Parish School. He thanked those who came and spoke and said the committee would take their words into consideration.

Throughout the night, applause was nearly evenly split for proponents of placing security guards in schools, and those opposed to adding any police presence in Gloucester’s schools. Speakers raised a number of possible solutions, ranging from fully arming a security guard, to implementing an unarmed resource officer, to first securing the school buildings’ doors and windows without bringing in a guard.

The youngest speaker — O’Maley Middle School seventh grader TS Burnham — stood at the microphone to tell committee members that she has always felt safe in Gloucester schools and the idea of adding an armed security guard to her school scares her.

“I’ve always had this fear of a loaded gun at my school, and I came to school to learn and I didn’t come there to be afraid,” she told the committee. “I get that you’re a police officer, you’re a safe guy, there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just the fact again, sorry to keep repeating it, but the fact that there’s a gun in my school.”

Still other proponents — like Joseph Orlando, father to Amanda Kesterson, who initially proposed the idea of security guards and petitioned for the hearing — felt that arming a security guard at the schools is the best solution to protecting Gloucester students in the worst case scenarios.

“Unfortunately, it is our duty to honestly assess the world in which we live. On this issue, the protection of Gloucester’s children, we owe them a sacred duty to educate and to protect,” Orlando said. “Let’s make the news as a community who heeded the lessons of Sandy Hook and said it will not happen here.”

City councilors Sefatia Romeo-Theken and Bob Whynott each spoke as members of the community, both expressing their understandings of both sides of the issue.

Romeo-Theken said that, instead of the security guard, Gloucester schools should work to create an environment in which all students feel accepted and counselors exist for students who experience depression or feel bullied.

“When we turn our heads, then we’re to blame,” Romeo-Theken said.

Whynott, a self described “card-carrying NRA member,” said he thinks Gloucester schools need to take interim steps before implementing any plan for armed security guards. He focused on fixing up the doors at school buildings, creating a safer building.

“If I thought we needed to have an armed guard in the school at this point, I wouldn’t be against it, but I don’t think Gloucester’s there yet. We haven’t taken the intermediate steps,” Whynott said.

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