Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey says all communities in his district should be prepared for worst-case situations should violence break out in a local school.
So last week he offered each of those 27 communities a free, comprehensive safety assessment for one school building to be prepared by the Metropolitan Law Enforcement Council, or MetroLEC, a consortium of 43 local police and sheriff departments that share resources, equipment, and expertise.
The organization uses a variety of tools to determine how best to decrease or prevent injuries in the school environment if violence occurs, officials said.
A team of MetroLEC officers who developed an “Incident Management Protocols and Critical Tasks” program will walk the targeted building to conduct a physical assessment, then provide a package of options to school administrators including virtual imagery of the space and floor plans, as well as recommended locations to gather in an emergency. Officers and others will also review existing lockdown procedures and may offer customized alternatives, as well as a “crawl, walk, run” strategy, officials said. Police and prosecutors involved in the program declined to offer specifics of the plan because of the sensitive nature of school safety.
About $3,500 has been budgeted for each safety assessment from the forfeited proceeds of drug cases handled by the Norfolk prosecutor’s office. At the end of the assessment, the district will have recommendations and clear steps to take to keep children safe, officials said, which can then be applied to other buildings.
Morrissey said his offer is not a knee-jerk reaction to the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., or elsewhere, but an ongoing priority to protect children since he became district attorney in 2010. He announced the new program last week during the first meeting of a new countywide school safety task force that includes more than 50 representatives from Avon, Braintree, Canton, Foxborough, Milton, Sharon, Stoughton, Walpole, Westwood, and Weymouth, among other communities.
“This is very important work, and I want to make it as easy as possible for towns to have it done,” said Morrissey.
He said his office will provide one assessment that local police and school officials can then use as a template to craft safety plans for other school buildings as they see the opportunity.
Some districts, like Avon, have been working on similar protocols and procedures for some time, said School Superintendent Margaret Frieswyk.
Avon is one of the county’s smallest districts, with just 700-plus students in two schools. Still, Frieswyk said her district has a crisis team that meets regularly, a manual that provides protocols and sample letters to parents — for disasters from floods to suicides — and each classroom is equipped with a flipchart that contains emergency instructions for teachers.
Currently, the district is discussing whether to keep an emergency lockdown procedure in place, or perhaps adopt something more aggressive, as Canton did earlier this year. Canton began training for “ALICE” — a potentially confrontational action plan whose letters mean “alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate.”
The program calls on staff and students to make active decisions, such as blocking doorways, coordinating on-the-spot evacuations, or even throwing things at, or tackling, an assailant.
“We have security cameras, door buzzers, and we have told students we have to monitor their safety,’’ Frieswyk said. “We are always looking at different options. We are intrigued with anything new that comes along.”
Canton police Detective Chip Yeaton, a school resource officer, defended the ALICE protocol recently, maintaining that the program is about teaching students options, rather than instilling a status quo response to just lock the door and wait.
Weymouth Assistant Superintendent Matt Ferron said his management team is still evaluating Morrissey’s assessment offer for one building in the 12-school district.
“Until we present this option to our School Committee, I can’t say with certainty that we will participate, but we are giving it very careful consideration,’’ he said.
Foxborough Superintendent Debbie Spinelli said her district commissioned MetroLEC safety assessments on all five schools at least four years ago at the urging of Police Chief Edward O’Leary. Since those plans are already in place, Foxborough wants Morrissey to consider allowing the schools to use the grant funding for school security cameras instead.
“We are in the early stages of planning and are meeting with faculty and parent groups to discuss improvements to our school security and emergency response plans,’’ Spinelli said.
Walpole administrators recently floated a plan to install security cameras in schools, something that students have objected to through a petition drive.
Morrissey has offered schools in his district three rounds of grants for capital improvements — from door locks and intruder alarms to video security cameras, according to information provided by his office. In November, the month before the shooting at Sandy Hook that killed 26 children and adults, and again in February, Morrissey said he hosted training for police and school personnel on techniques that can save lives in active shooter situations.
That most recent training was provided by Response Options, a Texas-based firm founded by a school principal and a SWAT officer who are married to each other.
“School-age children are one of our most targeted and at-risk populations, and I want every chief, every superintendent, every principal, and every parent to know that they have a partner in making their children as safe as we can,” Morrissey said.