Panel works on enhancing school safety

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Members of the City Council, school department, school committee, first responders, and Mayor’s office had their fourth meeting of the minds last Tuesday to discuss school safety. This sub-committee was formed in February to try to devise ways to make both school and city-owned buildings safer.

Chairman of the sub-committee and Council vice president Michael Favicchio called these meetings “informative,” and said that they keep all the people involved, from Superintendent of schools Jeannine Nota to Council President Michael Farina, Police Chief Michael Winquist, and School Committee Chairwoman Janice Ruggieri, “on the same page.”

Nota said she was glad the sub-committee was formed, but hopes that it won’t just be talk and real action will be taken.

“I think the sub-committee is a step in the right direction,” she said. “Having those conversations with folks in law enforcement, schools, teachers, students, that’s a good thing. Gathering this information has been helpful in allowing everyone to be part of the conversation.”

She said that the school department has already taken action to make schools safer, including ID cards that all teachers/staff have to use, better locks on the doors, and every school’s front office now buzzing every visitor in. She said that some of the money spent on these hardware updates could be reimbursed by the state due to a Gov. Gina Raimondo initiative.

Favicchio added that this year’s budget has allotted money for two additional school resource officers to patrol the city’s schools and a new social worker at the high schools to deal with mental health.

He said that one of the tangible things discussed at the meetings was metal detectors, but with the constant movement in some of the schools that would not be feasible.

Nota said that in the long-term, the school dept. would like to create a culture in which people in schools are aware and “exercise safe judgments,” but she said schools should also be welcoming and nurturing places.

“It’s a balance of how to make students safe and secure but not terrify kids at the same time, especially the little ones,” she said.

Nota also said that Ed Collins, the director of buildings operations, as well as Paul Ochevsky, a retired state police officer who works as the district safety coordinator, have worked to make safety in the buildings a focus moving forward.

Ruggieri expressed some skepticism about how effective the sub-committee meetings have been.

She said that the school department has already been working on a long-term plan to improve the safety in buildings, and so far the sub-committee meetings haven’t come up with any immediate solutions to either school buildings or city-owned buildings, which Favicchio said were also a priority at the meetings.

“I’d hoped that the committee, when it was formed, was going to make changes and help make all of our buildings safer,” Ruggieri said. “I’m looking for them to uphold that promise they made so vocally at the beginning of the year.”

Favicchio said he hopes that the meetings will continue into the school year because he thinks the discussion alone is beneficial.

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