GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 26, 2013

School security on table tomorrow

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — Every parent wants to know that his or her child is safe during the six daily hours children spend in school.

But how to keep the kids protected from bullying, accidents and even violence is a question with various answers.

After gunshots rang out at Newtown, Conn.’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, the shooter killing 20 children and six adults, voices around the nation stirred with opinions. Perspectives arose, too, from people in Gloucester, some of who will speak at a School Committee public hearing Wednesday night.

The hearing, set for 7 p.m. in West Parish Elementary School’s auditorium, follows a petition by Gloucester resident and mom Amanda Kesterson, who is proposing that the city’s school district incorporate armed security guards into each of Gloucester’s schools.

“I’m hopeful that a lot of people will come, not just to support the idea that I’ve come up with and circulated, but because I want a group of people to come and share ideas,” Kesterson said Monday. “People have talked about all different ideas, and this is a great opportunity to use them and the school committee can take from them what they like.”

Though Kesterson’s petition initially ran into some walls —the city, for example, categorized the hundreds of electronic signatures she had collected as inadequate because of their electronic nature — she anticipates the public hearing as a time for city officials to come together with open minds and hear their constituents’ ideas.

The School Committee voted in February to hold the hearing based on Kesterson’s individual petition, when she submitted the petition for a hearing as a sole resident after City Clerk Linda Lowe rejected her supporters’ signatures. The hearing proposal passed 4-2 — with Roger Garberg and Kathleen Clancy opposed because, they said, Superintendent Richard Safier had done the research and concluded that safety officers in Gloucester’s schools are unnecessary.

“It’s really a matter of respecting the administration’s research and judgment on the issue,” Garberg said in February.

In a letter to the board — and later published in the Times as My View pieces on Saturday and Monday — Safier noted statistics that show armed security guards in schools have never successfully prevented shootings, and that their presence can be detrimental to children, making the students feel as though they are in a lockdown zone. Safier also estimated that the annual cost for the city to pay these security guards would likely fall between $550,000 to $600,000 annually.

“Our course is to emphasize culture and climate, mental health services, and emergency plans as the means for ensuring school safety,” Safier wrote. “We must also be sure that a balance is struck between efforts to maintain physical safety while at the same time preserving an environment that promotes student’s emotional well being ...”

After the shooting at Sandy Hook, Gloucester police and the Department of Public Works stepped up efforts to secure the schools, repairing doors and checking alarms.

The schools, however, currently have no assigned school guards, though Sgt. Mike Gossom acts as a police liaison to the public schools, according to Police Chief Leonard Campanello, who said he anticipates a good discussion Wednesday.

“It will at least lead to a very interesting and hopefully moving dialogue,” Campanello said Monday. “We’ll see what everyone brings to the table on Wednesday and hopefully have a good starting point.”

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