Naugatuck parent Phil Zembruski pleaded with education officials Thursday to do everything in their power to keep children safe at school.
“Look at every avenue. Look at every possibility. And when you think you’ve looked enough, look again,” he told the Board of Education.
Zembruski is one of thousands of parents in Naugatuck and millions across the state and country who are wondering just how safe their schools are, and how they can be safer, following the tragedy in Sandy Hook on Dec. 14.
Moments after the Naugatuck school board held a moment of silence Thursday for the 20 children and six educators killed on that day, Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson explained part of how the borough will work to further secure schools.
The superintendent handed out a 20-page addendum to the school security handbook that was developed by Director of Security Edward Bozenski. The document, which was accepted by the board, is broken down into five sections:
- Responding to an active shooter
- How to be aware of the warning signs
- Developing a survival mindset
- What to report and to whom
- Five phases of an active shooter
The document, which will be posted on the school district's website, not only discusses the protocol for what to do when a shooter enters a building, but also how to identify students who may potentially act out in the future.
Tindall-Gibson said he wants all school staff to be aware of the five phases of an active shooter and to think about “what they should do should an emergency like this occur.”
He said an architect said one of the more interesting statements he’s heard since the shooting: "You don’t prepare for potential future crisis by thinking about what happened in the past, you have to think in almost unimaginable terms."
Therefore, the school system needs to think about every potential scenario and do all it can to prevent future incidents, Tindall-Gibson said.
The document describes seven phases of responding to an active shooter including 1. evacuation - go to a designated safe place; 2. lockdown - lockdown in the closest safe place possible, remain quiet, silence your cell phone and stay out of view of windows and doors; 3. how to respond when law enforcement arrives - remain calm and follow officers' instructions; 4. information to provide to 911 operator includes location of shooter, number of shooters, physical description of shooter; 5. Areas of refuge - there shall be two areas of refuge, located on oppposite sides of the school; 6. schools should create an emergency lockdown plan and conduct training exercises; 7. Components of training exercises should include training on making an intercom announcement, how to react quickly, how to identify gunshots.
Some of the steps that have already been taken in Naugatuck include putting a security booth at the front steps of Naugatuck High School. A security guard sits in the booth and asks for identification from all non-students who want to enter the building. New security measures, such as swipe cards to get into rooms, will be implemented at the newly constructed NHS, which will start to be developed next year.
Meanwhile, all schools have become more diligent with safety measures, including making sure all entrances are secured, educators are aware of safety protocol and teachers are continuing to look out for children who display signs of emotional distress.
The school system has also reached out to the Naugatuck Police Department, which has agreed to have patrol officers enter the schools on a regular basis during their shifts.
“We want the officers to become aware of the layout of the schools and to get to know the students and staff,” said school board member Jim Scully, chairman of the facilities subcommittee.
Scully said that while Naugatuck will do all it can to keep children safe, all communities must face the sobering fact that sometimes these incidents may not be preventable.
“Some of this stuff, no matter what you do, it’s unfortunately going to happen,” he said. “You can’t make these schools prisons.”
Tindall-Gibson echoed some of those remarks.
He said architects who discussed school safety at a statewide forum early this week said that “in this particular incident, the loss of life was going to occur and there was probably no way to avoid that.”
The archictect said that, "had there been an armed officer in the building, there probably still would have been people who died,” Tindall-Gibson said. “So the emphasis is how to avoid that and how to minimize it when it occurs. ...You cannot fortify a school enough but what you can do is make it a good working environment to address these things the best they can be addressed."
Tindall-Gibson, who is normally pragmatic at board meetings, became somewhat emotional when discussing just why Naugatuck has to have this discussion.
“We can’t say enough just how tragic the events in Newtown were,” he said. “I still can’t wrap my mind around someone actually doing that.”