Editor in Chief
Not even two weeks before the winter holidays, one of the worst school shootings ever occurred in the small town of Newtown, Connecticut. This event shocked the entire country and reopened debate on school safety across the nation.
Here in Holliston, a variety of new security measures have been put in place within our school system, but teacher and student reactions to these events have been varied.
According to a letter released on the Holliston Public School’s website by Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Bradford Jackson, immediately following the events at Newtown the priority “was to ensure that we had supports in place for students and staff members who were dealing with the emotional impact of the tragedy.”
After that, concerns about physically protecting the school were addressed. However, Dr. Jackson acknowledged that school safety is not an easy issue, saying in his letter that “Unfortunately changing [security] procedures is significantly more complicated than simply ‘locking the front door’… [because] each of our schools has scores of legitimate visitors coming each hour of the school day.”
Dr. Jackson then continued to explain that buzzer systems with a receptionist to monitor entrances to the school would be placed at Placentino, Miller and Adams schools, a promise that has since been carried out. Anyone attempting to “bypass the system” will be arrested, according to Dr. Jackson’s letter.
Despite the quick movements to install security features at other schools in town, no such measures have been taken at Holliston High School (HHS). Dr. Jackson justified the lack of security measures in the high school as being due to a traffic pattern that “is significantly different because of the unique features of our building layout, our current practice of allowing senior privileges and the vast number of students who are leaving and returning to the school to attend off-site internships, etc.”
In addition to the physical means of protecting the school, Dr. Jackson brought up another method of school protection in a second letter released with the Chief of Police, the Fire Chief and a member of Youth/Family Services. He mentions that “research conducted by the United States Secret Service informs us that the most effective way to keep schools safe is for each student to have a trusted adult in the school in whom the student feels safe to confide.”
HHS Principal Mr. Michael Cournoyer agrees with Dr. Jackson’s ideas, and said that his “baseline philosophy is that the people part is way more important than the physical means of protecting the school.” He added that in some cases those with plans to harm a school have even told friends not to come into school on a particular date because they were going to do something bad.
Ms. Katherine Stackpole, an HHS social studies teacher, believes that the student body is one of the biggest advantages the school has in protecting itself because students “pay attention to each other and talk to [teachers].”
Ultimately, though Ms. Stackpole believes that keeping the school secure is hard because “It’s hard to practice an emergency. You can’t ever plan for every eventuality.” Even with all these uncertainties Ms. Stackpole added that, “we [as a school] do a good job” in keeping the school safe.
The midyear update to the 2012/2013 high school improvement plan addressed the issue of providing and maintaining “a physically and emotionally safe school environment” with plans to “expand the Advisory Program to include older students as mentors to younger students, continue with the development and expansion of the formal curriculum for the Advisory Program and further the expansion of the Anti-Defamation League Program, A World of Difference.”
Ms. Stackpole, however, thinks that the effectiveness of programs such as the Advisory Program is “something that [students] have the answer to.”
While HHS Senior Diana Waterman said that often when threats occur “students will tell other students and as long as someone has a teacher they can trust [the administration] will find out;” she also noted that students may not always be aware of outside threats to warn teachers of dangerous situations.
For this reason, Waterman said that she ultimately believes current school safety measures are not adequate for protecting the school because “It’s a widely known fact that every day is a bring a friend day if you want it to be. Anyone can get in [to the school].”
To deal with outsiders entering the building, Mr. Cournoyer added that in the future “Staff and faculty are going to have to wear ids.”
Ms. Stackpole said that she would not mind having to wear identification badges, so that it would be easier to know if any strangers are walking around school.
Another great support system the school already has in place is its mental health professionals. Ms. Stackpole believes that “the mental health professionals we have are fantastic.”
The school is currently equipped with four guidance counselors, two adjustment counselors, and even the school nurse, who is often good at detecting psychosomatic problems in students. In addition, the school works closely with a member of Holliston Youth and Family Services who comes to the school one day a week.
Despite efforts to improve security in the building, the current procedures do not make Waterman feel safe because “the biggest problem with a lockdown is it wouldn’t go into effect until gunshots were heard. At that point someone is probably already wounded.”
She also said that lockdowns are ineffective at HHS, in particular, because of the fact that the doors between the classrooms do not lock, allowing a potential gunman easy access to multiple classrooms. She would prefer to see a security system put in place because “even if it’s not 100% effective it’s better than having doors open to the public.”
Mr. Cournoyer responded to that fear by stating “we wouldn’t necessarily wait until gunshots were heard.” The police may call to indicate a threat in the area and the school would go into lockdown before a fugitive even entered the building. He added that the student really just “doesn’t have the knowledge of the protocol.”
Waterman ultimately feels that the HHS’s response to the Newtown shooting “was very unimpressive. Nothing’s really changed, but it’s changed at the middle school. I think that’s a little frightening.”
Mr Cournoyer stated that increasing school security by adding a security system would not be worth it because “It’s kind of taboo to mention, but Newtown had a buzzer system and a camera, and a maniac [still] gunned his way through the front door.” He added that “If you put buzzers on doors it gives people a false sense of security and makes them less diligent with communicating with others.”
Ms. Stackpole offered a somewhat more hopeful view of possible changes after the tragedy, and said “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the response. It’s not over on a national level. We’ll keep going [to improve school security].”