By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript
NORTH ADAMS -- Doors that are traditionally unlocked at the beginning of the school day were bolted, as North Adams Police officers watched over children who were heading back to classrooms at the city’s three elementary schools and at Drury High School on Monday.
The extra precautions were just a few of the safety protocols city and school officials began discussing on Friday, in the hours following the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"In light of the recent events in Newtown, we just wanted to heighten the awareness of our presence at the schools for our children, parents and staff, reassuring them that we are there," North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio said Monday. "We plan to maintain high visibility throughout the schools here in the city for at least the rest of this week. In addition, Officer Francis Maruco, our school resource officer, is available on a full-time basis."
North Adams Public School Superintendent James E. Montepare said Maruco, who works at Drury High School, will be checking in at all of the schools this week.
"The North Adams Police are also adding extra patrols at the schools as a way to assure parents and students that they aren’t that far away if something out of the ordinary should arise," Montepare said. "We didn’t want to have a full-time police presence in every school because we didn’t want to frighten the children. We want to keep their day as normal as possible."
Mayor Richard J. Alcombright credited Montepare and his staff, as well as Cozzaglio, for being proactive by starting the planning process Friday and continuing it throughout the weekend.
"[School safety] will obviously be the topic of discussion this week and one we’ll have to continue during the holiday break," the mayor said. "The topic is on the agenda for the Jan. 2 School Committee meeting."
He added, "What is so challenging about the incident in Newtown is this particular man shot through a window or door to get into an otherwise locked building. It makes this a much broader issue. Š It’s a very complex question that comes with very complex answers."
At McCann Technical School, Principal Justin Kratz said Friday’s events have his administration rethinking the way a planned "lockdown" drill, originally scheduled to take place before winter break, will play out over the next few weeks.
"We realized that we need to talk to the students about the drill before we have it," he said. "By Thursday, myself and my administrative team will have met with every student in the school, in small groups, to explain what our expectations are. We want them to understand the reasons why it is imperative to follow directions."
Kratz said the lockdown drill won’t take place until January.
While school officials are asking parents who have questions or concerns to contact their offices or building principals, City Councilor Jennifer Breen is offering parents, community members and public officials the chance to come together for an informal discussion in her office, Breen Law Offices & Mediation, at Mass MoCA, on Dec. 27 at 6 p.m.
"I have a lot of friends who have young children who are very worried," Breen said Monday. "It’s going to be a low-key discussion where parents can vent and talk about their concerns. I’m not looking to make this political. I just want to give parents and others with concerns a safe place to come together and talk."
Breen, who has two step-children, ages 6 and 8, said it can be hard for parents of young children not to react emotionally when something like Friday’s shootings occur.
"You don’t know what to think," she said. "I can’t imagine something like this happening here. ... I do know, through casual conversations, that people are happy with what the city has done at the schools today. It makes them feel better. I don’t know if it’s something we can do on a permanent basis, but it’s something parents can discuss and the city may be able to explore."
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