The Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District (MERS) has announced several changes in security and safety procedures that have been prompted by the harrowing killings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Hours after the Connecticut school shooting, the Manalapan Police Department contacted the district and informed them that they would be heightening security presence by having a police officer at each of the district schools at the beginning and end of the day. Random walk throughs by police officers were also coordinated and police were told to patrol the school parking lots while on duty. In order to help with this, Manalapan Township hired two Special II part-time officers, who have recently finished their training.
District principals, and administrators from the local private schools, attended a township security meeting with Captain Michael Fountain of the Manalapan Police Department on Dec. 19. The police department reviewed their aspect of the emergency management plan.
Lockdown magnets were installed in all district buildings by Jan. 7, MERS Superintendent John J. Marciante, Jr. announced at the district's public hearing on school security Tuesday night. These magnets allow for every classroom to be locked down in a quicker fashion so that the teacher does not have to use her key. Police found donors within in hours and were able to raise $3,000 for the purchase of the magnets.
The district’s emergency management plan was reviewed immediately after the shooting occurred on Dec. 14, Marciante said. An administrative meeting dedicated to the emergency management plan procedures and security review was held on Jan. 10.
The principal of each school assessed the security of their building prior to the holiday break and presented their recommendations to Vince Pietrucha, the Director of the Physical Plant. Pietrucha toured the schools with Sonitrol, the district’s private security company, and all recommendations were looked into, according to Marciante.
Improvements to district security proposed by Sonitrol were approved by the Board of Education on Jan. 8 and the Board committed to funding the security improvements project at a cost of $54,769.
The improvements include:
- enhanced video surveillance
- upgraded cameras
- stronger direct connects to the security firm
- a decrease in emergency response time
- the ability to network the access to cameras/DVR to increase access to key individuals
Marciante said that he will recommend the Board invite an independent private security company to overview the district security after all of the improvements have been made in order to ensure nothing was overlooked.
“When I think of security I think of access,” Marciante said, noting that the district will now know who will be coming into the school buildings at all times as all visitors must call the school thirty minutes prior to approaching the building.
Every child in the school building will provide three to four names of approved individuals who can enter the school for that person. One of these approved individuals must call the school, they will be put on a list of people expected to arrive at the building, and then when they arrive they will say their name and be able to enter the building. If you are not on the list, you will not be allowed to enter the school, the superintendent explained.
“It is inconvenient, I understand that,” Marciante said, ”but it makes it more secure and it allows us to control access to the building.”
Principals of each school are currently reviewing the security protocol at large-scale school events such as graduations and field days. The principals will be presenting the superintendent with ideas on how to enhance safety measures at these events.
Additionally, because no plan to handle a crisis during the the district’s annual Halloween Parade is currently in place, and the principals can not think of an idea that guarantees a secure environment, Marciante said that he has decided to cancel the yearly parade.
Security after-school hours is also a major concern, Marciante said.The superintendent has contacted Mona Cholowinski, the director of the Manalapan Parks and Recreation Department, to discuss security on district property during after school hours.
“After 3:40 p.m. and people start using our buildings, I have no control over what happens,” Marciante said. “The security in the afternoons is not the same and that has to change.”
Finally, an ad hoc security committee has been created. This committee, run by Board Vice President Dotty Porcaro, will be able to meet with the Board of Education to discuss security issues and concerns. Parents interested in joining the ad hoc committee should contact the superintendent at firstname.lastname@example.org.