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Gemma Sampas

Staff Writer, Social Media Editor
Administration and faculty are working to better school safety due to recent events — both nationwide and locally.

School shootings in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas became global headlines this year. On average, a school shooting occurs once a week, according to a CNN article.

Three safety complications also transpired this year on HHS property, the first being a lockdown on October 21st. After a robbery at TD bank at 1:40 PM, Holliston’s three public schools were placed in a lockdown, according to a Holliston Patch article. Out of an abundance of caution, the Adams Middle School, Miller Elementary School, and Placentino School have been locked down while the police conduct an area-wide search,” a statement released on behalf of the school district said.

One hundred and thirty days after, HHS faced a weapon possession incident in which a BB gun was brought to a Hopkinton-Holliston girls’ basketball game at Hopkinton High School by a Holliston student, according to a HHS Vision article. Superintendent Bradford Jackson, Police Chief Matthew Stone, and HHS Principal Nicole Bottomley released a joint statement on Facebook confirming that no evidence was available to prove that the student threatened to commit a violent act against the school. HHS released no further announcements regarding the concern.

The last situation to complicate safety on HHS property resulted in a containment on March 21st. The Containment Protocol was initiated due to a Snapchat video posted by two HHS students in which an airsoft gun was present. According to a HHS Vision article, the containment was put into effect at 11:35am through an announcement and was lifted at 12:10pm.

Chief Stone wrote in a statement “The Holliston Police Department and the Holliston Public Schools take any incident such as this seriously. We appreciate the community’s willingness to work in partnership with the Holliston Police Department to ensure our schools are safe.”

Fourteen Holliston residents expressed their feelings of gratitude on the prompt response to the containment as Facebook comments , one writing “Thank you for your prompt actions and those of Holliston PD, as well as keeping the community as informed as possible during the situation,” a sentiment which garnered five ‘likes.’

HHS now has a pronounced focus on safety. A school safety committee, made up of  Dr. Jackson, Chief Stone, Fire Chief Michael R. Cassidy, and Officer Bryan DiGiorgio, along with teacher representatives, was formed in September to review school safety policies and procedures across the district, according to School Committee member Joan Shaughnessy. The school committee will present their findings thus far at a meeting on Thursday, June 7th. HCAT will live-stream the event.

“I work to educate the school staff by making safety recommendations and letting them know about things we should be updating. I’m constantly having conversations, and I also do trainings to become better prepared,” said DiGiorgio.

In addition, school protocol must be updated continuously, said DiGiorgio, citing the school’s buzzer system and the employment of two police officers to the school as  resource officers, something “unheard of in a community our size.”

DiGiorgio believes there is still room for improvement, however.

“I would like to see cameras on the exterior of the building, on the property, fields, and parking lot. I don’t see how they could help inside, as young adults you guys are entitled to some privacy,” said DiGiorgio.  

Teachers are educated on how to respond in the case of an emergency mainly through the Emergency Response Plan, a packet given to all HHS teachers, last revised in September 2015.

“During times of emergency, it is important to provide prompt and accurate information to students, staff, parents and the media. The principal or other administrator will provide information to the Central Office and a spokesperson will be designated to release information to the media” the response plan states in its introduction.

Included in the response plan is the Intruder Response Protocol, which details five steps each teacher should take in the event of an armed intruder. The steps follow the main idea of the first: “Determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life. Students and visitors will follow the lead of faculty and staff during an intruder situation.”

Following the first step, the remainder of the plan stresses decision making (such as choosing whether to evacuate), taking action by attempting to incapacitate the intruder, keeping hands visible when evacuating, escaping to a point as far away from the school as possible, and calling 9-1-1 when safe to do so.

School administrators are given a separate procedure with specific, predetermined steps, such as notifying public safety officials, contacting the Central Office, communicating a physical description of the intruder to the school and safety officials, and filing an incident report.

Each classroom contains two emergency-related sheets by the front door, taped to the wall above where a teacher may keep a pencil sharpener or a sign-out sheet. The first sheet is light pink and gives evacuation instructions that pertain to a classroom’s whereabouts in the school, such as “Go out the door. Turn left. Go to the end of the hall and go down stairs on the left and exit the building.”

The second sheet gives a summation of the lockdown protocol found in the safety handbook, whose steps have been consolidated into three sub-groups: evacuate, hide out, take action.

At HHS, recent events both in Holliston and nationwide have caused new conversations regarding school safety between faculty and staff members.

“I want students to have some perspective,” said Mrs. Amanda Rivera, “I want students to be activists, I also want them to come to school knowing that the likelihood of them dying in a school shooting is very narrow.”

For Mrs. Rivera, her perception on school safety has not changed, although recent school shootings have caused her to reflect on school safety more often.

“My responsibilities are to make sure that students know how to act appropriately in terms of small and large-scale safety emergencies. My bigger mission is to make sure that students feel safe in school, and I think that that’s done through making sure I exude my own confidence,” Mrs. Rivera said.

Mr. Timothy Bailey holds different opinions surrounding school safety, and would like to see the school employ more rigid structure and discipline, as well as heightened security.

“Just because I would like to see increased security around here does not mean I want to make the school into a prison,” said Mr. Bailey, citing the notion that “all it takes” is one student to prop a door open for the school’s safety to be irrevocably damaged.

“You have to be prepared for anything to happen, you have to be in the right mind, you have to be prepared for any possibility,” said Mr. Bailey.

To prepare students, Mr. Bailey would like to see the school adhere to a more traditional rule-set. He would like to see a school where students aren’t on their phones walking the halls, or congregating in the bathrooms.

“The culture of the school will ultimately win out, and the culture of the school here needs a lot of improvement,” he said.

In Mrs. Rivera’s opinion, keeping the school safer begins with teaching students to take care of their school and become responsible, empathetic citizens.

“I don’t think that locking doors, or putting ID badges on everybody is going to help solve a mass shooting problem. If somebody is coming to a school with glass windows and 18 entryways, they’re getting in. I don’t think the solution is hardening the building, I think the solution is gun control,” she said.

Overall, Mrs. Rivera would like to see more opportunities in school for students to speak on their own thoughts and concerns.

“I want students to not be afraid to voice their opinions. Even if they’re unpopular, even if they’re political. I want your voices to be heard. We need to be able to have these conversations.”

 

photo by Gemma Sampas

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