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March 29, 2013

Debate divided on school security

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 armed security guards to implementing an unarmed resource officer, to first securing the school buildings’ doors and windows without bringing in a guard.

Police Chief Campanello kicked off the hearing, expressing that he thinks placing an armed police officer in each school would be unnecessary currently, while there are still other steps to take — like securing school infrastructure first.

“I am not for having an armed police officer in every school. I don’t think we’re at that step yet, but I think it’s great that the dialogue has been opened up,” Campanello said.

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.”

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