Panel to study how to make schools safer

Metal detectors, lock boxes for concealed permit carry holders among proposals

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As Cranston firefighters filed into the City Council chambers Monday night to receive their citations from the city for their work during the chemical fire on Elmwood Avenue, the room filled to a point where it possibly exceeded fire code regulations.

Cranston residents, including teachers, school committee members, students, and other concerned citizens, as well as a representative from the ACLU were there to hear and discuss a resolution put forth by the Republican members of the council.

The resolution includes suggestions to put metal detectors at school entrances and lockboxes for people entering the school carrying a gun with a concealed carry permit. A resolution to form a subcommittee focused on improving school safety, based on the resolution put forward by the Republicans, was unanimously approved.

Council President Michael Farina said the subcommittee will be chaired by Council Vice President Michael Favicchio because of his position as Finance chair, so that he can work on making sure whatever action they take works from a financial perspective. He named Trent Colford the Republican majority representative and Paul Archetto the Democratic minority representative. He also said that he asked the school committee to pick a representative and will be looking for a rep from the school administration as well. Police and fire will both have representation as well. Rounding out the committee will be a representative from the city administration.

Superintendent Jeannine Nota said she had not discussed the resolution with any member of the council, but she would be “happy to be part of a subcommittee.” She also said that there is “a lot more to it” than what was on the resolution proposed by the Councilman and she would need to sit down and look at an entire plan before forming an opinion.

School Committee Chairwoman Janice Ruggieri said during public hearing at the Council meeting that she would have wanted more communication between the councilman and the school committee before this resolution was put through. She added that she’s glad the resolution in its current form isn’t going to the General Assembly, as she thought the language was “too vague” and the cost in metal detectors alone would be “millions of dollars” because of how many entrances there are across Cranston’s school buildings.

President of the Cranston Teacher’s Union, Lizabeth Larkin, also voiced her opinion during public hearing. She said that during every meeting she has with the union reps from schools around Cranston, they discuss how to make schools safer, adding that action on this issue should have been focused on “decades ago” at the city level. She said that this resolution wouldn’t make their kids feel safe in schools and there were better alternatives than metal detectors and lock boxes, including continuing to work with school resource officers.

Melissa Jenkins, a leader from the Cranston Action Network, told the Councilmen that after asking her nephew, a middle school student, about metal detectors in schools, he told her “he doesn’t want to go to school that feels like a prison.”

Debby Flipman, speaking at the Council meeting on behalf of the ACLU, said that the resolution could have the potential to “harm civil liberties” of the students at schools.

“We should make our schools safer without militarizing them and taking away the civil liberties of the students,” she said.

In addition to raising concerns about the specifics in the resolution, Cranston residents also expressed anger that Councilman John Lanni’s resolution on banning concealed carry permits in schools has been consistently tabled over the past year. Many residents said that guns shouldn’t be allowed at all in schools and that Lanni’s resolution should have been voted through long before now.

Lanni said in a phone interview that he is in support of this resolution because it “takes care of concealed weapons” by requiring them to be put in lock boxes in schools, but also questioned why it took a year for this issue to be acted on by the Republican council members.

“It took a massacre in Florida to bring this to the floor,” he said. “I’ve asked repeatedly, why can’t we discuss this? The answer was never given.”

Speaking Tuesday about the focus of Monday night’s meeting, Farina said “it would have been nice if they [members of the public] focused more on school safety and less on gun resolutions,” because “most of the comments seemed to be more that we should ban guns, which was not on the table.”

“I was happy it was approved,” Farina added about the resolution. “It shows that hopefully we can put all the politicizing that both groups, Democrats and Republicans, have been doing for the past six to eight months, and hopefully do something that will benefit the people.”

According to Kellsie King, an East senior in attendance Monday night, the students at her high school are planning for a walkout in March that would “show solidarity with the victims of the Parkland school and push for more legislation to protect the Cranston Public School’s students.”

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