, Gloucester, MA

January 28, 2013

Editorial: Woman's petition should spur city school safety talks

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — It would be nice if Gloucester seriously think about placing a police officer or security guard in each of its schools to convey a sense of greater security.

The fact is, that’s not going to happen. Even a city with a $4.8 million free cash kitty can’t commit to that level of expense. Despite President Obama’s commitent to funnel more federal money toward states and school districts seeking to beef up their security, it’s hard to imagine any such program would target Gloucester considering safety needs in other, more urban districts. And beyond that, there will always be those who will question whether city schools need that kind of attention.

Yet school parent Amanda Kesterson deserves immense credit for collecting signatures for a petition that calls for beefing up Gloucester’s school security. And the fact that she’s already drawn in more than 200 signatures virtually assures, under the city’s charter, the issue will go to a public hearing — as it should.

Yes, many school officials and educators may think that Gloucester’s schools are sufficiently safe — that they don’t need any outside help in ensuring the safety of students. The truth is, no amount of secuirty may have fully prevented the assault and massacre on Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, which has sparked these concerns. And many Gloucester residents and officials would naively like to think that essentially can happen here.

The truth is, city officials — in the School Department, City Hall and in the Police Department — should seize this moment and Kesterson’s petition as a means to discuss perhaps a more regular series of rotating visits by police/school resource officers, in schools at all levels, and not just in the name of gun safety. Such programs would let even elementary students regularly interact with police in positive ways, and get used to the idea that police officers aren’t threatening, that they’re their friends. And that type of interaction can indeed give the Police Department a chance to make new inroads in community policing.

Some school and city officials may see Kesterson’s petition as overkill — even as threatening. That’s ridiculous.

In fact, her petition and its signers should signal to city officials that it’s time to talk openly and publicly about school safety. That’s an opprtunity perhaps long overdue.