Shelton children return to school, officials work on safety measures

A Shelton flag at half staff to honor the Newtown victims.

Shelton’s children, laden with backpacks and books, exited buses and entered classrooms once again this week, following a tragedy that will forever change the way school and city leaders look at security and safety measures, according to Superintendent Freeman Burr.

“It’s been a good day — as good a day as we could have hoped for,” Burr said Monday afternoon. “I’m not going to say it was perfect, but under the circumstances, things returned to about as normal an environment as possible.”

Burr stopped at Mohegan School early Monday morning and reported smiling, happy faces exiting the bus.

But while school leaders and staff are working to keep routines as  normal as possible for students, especially the young ones, the events of last Friday have had an immediate impact. While every school entrance has a security camera and buzzer, staff are being more careful than ever.

“Sometimes we buzzed first and asked questions later,” Burr said of security. “We tend to be lax because we don’t expect bad people to show up at schools, but after last Friday we can’t take anything for granted.”

As Burr made his rounds to visit schools, even he was stopped at a school front entrance and asked to identify himself.

“Ironically it happened to me even with a police officer out front,” Burr said.

Visitors are being escorted through the school. Even school volunteers will have to sign in, sign out and wear badges while in the school.

Parents attending a Perry Hill School holiday show were asked to sign in and show identification.

What happened last Friday was a “game-changer” Burr said, because it could have been any school in any town.

“Whatever innocence any of us had left was wiped out last Friday,” he said.

After news of the shooting spread Friday, officials were in communication with police to make sure there was no imminent threat to Shelton. Schools took some precautions, like keeping children inside.

On Sunday, Burr and Mayor Mark Lauretti met with police and fire and building officials to talk about safety.

Shelton police officers are increasing visibility at schools this week and the weeks following the holiday break. Chief Joel Hurliman and Capt. Mike Madden also stopped by a few schools on Monday.

The schools are also evaluating all existing security cameras and may need to make upgrades.

“Shelton Police Department will refer a technical expert in the field to us and we will determine our needs and move forward to upgrade them in the near future,” Burr wrote in a letter to the public.

Since the Newtown shooter reportedly shot his way into the front of the building, more changes to the entryways are likely.

“Our exterior doors and vestibule areas will also need to be re-examined in light of this tragedy, and particularly on how access was gained. We will explore possible short term options to address and secure these areas,” Burr wrote. “However, we will need to plan for the total replacement of entryways starting at our elementary buildings. Mayor Lauretti is committed to this and we will move this forward on the city’s Public Improvement Building Committee’s agenda for immediate action.

“Fire Marshal Tortora and Building Inspector Ballaro will be conducting facility inspections beginning at our elementary buildings. This will include evaluating the interior classroom doors to determine if upgrades are necessary and ensuring code compliance with any potential replacements to door locks. This will also include possible recommendations for facility upgrades,” Burr wrote.

Emergency procedures

“We will be working collaboratively with Shelton Police Department to set up safety and security workshops at each of our schools in the weeks to come,” Burr wrote. “These sessions will focus on training, emergency procedures, bomb threats, etc.”

The schools have also been practicing procedures already in place. Shelton High had scheduled a lockdown drill this week, long before the tragedy, and the school will proceed with that. When it comes to younger student populations, administrators may just talk to the students about it and be sure staff are up to date on those procedures.

Teachers are locking classroom doors and are encouraged to keep an eye out for any safety issues.

“School security and safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Burr said. “Everybody who works in that facility has a responsibility.”

Coping

Much of the community is still recovering from the loss of 20 children and six adults last Friday.

“As an educator it’s just unfathomable, the loss of these young children on the onset of their favorite holiday, in most cases,” Burr said. “It’s done unspeakable damage to their families, and we’ve all been dealing with that, everyone is hurting.”

Burr said the entire city is working together to allay any parent fears while also making sure students don’t become over-anxious about it.

Over the weekend, guidance staff sent teachers information to prepare them for student questions about the shooting. Staff also held a briefing meeting on Monday.

“This is not one of those things you necessarily want to start a conversation about, but kids are inquisitive and have questions,” Burr said.

Burr said parents may contact their principals or central office with any questions or concerns.

“We are going to get through this, I really believe that,” Burr said. “I don’t know that we will get over it but we will continue to provide the very best education for students and on an ongoing basis, make sure our safety and security is up to snuff.”

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