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More Security Coming to Chatham Schools, Schools Chief Says

District considers adding security and guidance personnel, making facility improvements and altering procedures following Newtown shootings.

The School District of the Chathams is considering an array of measures to strengthen security at its schools following the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Superintendent Michael LaSusa said during the board of education’s Monday meeting.

Among the measures mentioned by the superintendent were adding security and guidance personnel, making facility improvements and altering security procedures.

“We’ll take whatever precautions are reasonable and effective to try and strengthen the security of our buildings,” LaSusa said.

Increasing Staffing

The superintendent explained the functional responsibilities of a lot of the security systems that had been put into place over time in Chatham schools had fallen into the laps of the secretaries and other existing staff, instead of investing in new staff solely for security purposes.

“It’s challenging for a secretary answering the phone and doing 10 other things to constantly be looking at the door and trying to figure out who should be let in,” LaSusa said.

However, he said a number of measures have already been put into place, such as installing swipe card systems and setting up security cameras to make staff duties easier.

As next year’s budget process begins, the superintendent said he would like to have discussions with both the personnel and finance/facilities committee about requesting “counseling-type personnel.”

Board President Tom Belding agreed that the goal is to make Chatham schools “as safe as humanly possible.”

“If it needs to be put in the budget, we’ll put it in the budget,” Belding said.

Making Facility Improvements

LaSusa said he and board member Matthew Gilfillan walked the halls of the districts’ schools a few days after the shootings, consulting with a township police officer regarding what is reasonable and realistic in terms of making the facilities more secure.

Gilfillan, who chairs the board’s finance/facilities committee, said that walkthrough made him realize just how much of an undertaking the security process is going to be.

“When Mike and I walked through, everything we thought was a simple idea as a way to increase safety violated a fire regulation,” Gilfillan said. “We need to look from a totally different angle to make sure we are meeting fire code.”

One example of a facility problem Gilfillan and LaSusa noticed was that many doors are half-glass. Gilfillan said the district should budget to minimize glass on doors.

“We need to figure out simple things we can do to put ourselves in a position to make things safer on a long-term basis,” he said.

Improving Security Procedures

LaSusa said the district has been bolstered by its consistently close relationship with both the Chatham Township and Borough police departments, often working with them on security drills and developing its security plan based on their recommendations.

Further, he said the departments are always in communication with the schools’ principals.

“If [officers] spot something during a drill that needs to be addressed, they interact directly with the principals, who talk to us [in administration],” LaSusa said.

The superintendent said his office, the principals and the police departments will continue to work together to come up with security recommendations as the budget process begins. Belding added that the board should also be involved in the process.

The superintendent also said the district put in a request – based on an offer made by the county prosecutor’s office before the Newtown shootings – to have a security audit done on all school facilities. LaSusa said a full, comprehensive audit has not been done in three to four years.

While the district is awaiting a response from the county, Belding suggested speaking with private security consultants or retired detectives to come in and do an assessment.

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