Schools in and around Boston prepared to step up security, reassure parents and students and offer counseling and support as students return to class Monday for the first time since the shootings in Connecticut.
Officials in Medford, Natick and the city of Boston said they would step up security immediately, and several schools said they would review their procedures.
Natick school officials assured parents that a security plan is already in place, but they also said they would lock all front doors.
"Know that we have in place strong security systems in all eight of our schools. Our administration is well versed in handling lock down and crisis situations,'' Natick schools superintedent Peter Sanchioni said in an email Friday. "Starting Monday, the front door of all of our schools will be locked and staffed.''
In Medford, Roy E Belson, the Superintendent of Schools, notifed parents that additional police and school security personnel would be on hand Monday. He said Medford would also "begin an upgrade of all our security cameras and electronic entry systems.''
"While our assessment is that our schools are safe, we have decided to take additional action steps to increase coverage and strengthen rules that will add an extra dimension to our security at all school buildings. We believe that these enhanced measures can be accomplished without compromising a conducive learning environment and a desirable school climate. However, of necessity, these actions will make it less convenient for entry and visitation to our school sites,'' Belson wrote.
In Cambridge, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Young said in a prepared statement posted on the school district’s website that he convened an emergency meeting Sunday morning with senior staff to plan for the week. He said all principals will meet with staff prior to the start of school Monday to prepare teachers to meet with their students, and share ideas and strategies for developmentally appropriate responses to questions children might ask in school this week.
Young said district protocols call for exterior building doors to be locked, lockdown exercises have already been in place and during the current school year each class was equipped with an emergency procedures booklet.
But the superintendent said that even with the city’s safety measures in place, the school district still needs the communities help and support.
“We must heighten our awareness of situations that seem out of the ordinary and be active in reporting them to authorities,” Young said.
In Boston, police commissioner Ed Davis said Friday that he would increase police patrols.
"Although there is no connection to the Boston area, the shooting is disturbing,'' Davis said in a statement Friday afternoon. "Accordingly, we will be increasing uniformed police patrols in and around schools over the next several days.”
In an email to parents Sunday, Arlington Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Bodie said schools are planning to have as normal a school day as possible Monday, but counselors will be available at each school throughout the week. Bodie said the strong message to students will be that “they are in a safe environment with people who care about them very much and who are responsible for keeping their environment safe.
Police officers will be driving near Arlington schools during the day, Bodie said, but there will not be a police presence at each school all day. The superintendent said officials thought a police presence could cause more anxiety rather than alleviate anxiety.
But Bodie said a high level of vigilance will be followed by school officials and safety of the students is of paramount importance.
Thomas S. Kingston, the Interim Superintendent of Schools in Belmont, said there was "increased concern and regard" for school security.
'We do not discuss publicly our safety protocols or interventions because someone who might have ill intent could misuse such information. However, I do want to assure the public that we have heightened our vigilance, conferred with public safety officials, continually review our drills and procedures, and are doing all we can within our power to make sure our schools are as safe as possible,'' Kingston wrote.
Beverly Superintendent Marie E. Galinski said school officials there will be vigilant. "I have asked all of our principals to review all safety procedures with staff on Monday, December 17th,'' she said in a statement posted on a school website.
Framingham superintendent Stacy Scott said schools there are prepared for questions from students.
"Counselors and support staff will be in available in every school on Monday morning. The District Crisis Team has been activated and will be on hand to provide any additional support that is needed. School teams will review and reinforce safety protocols that are already in place in our school buildings,'' Scott said in a message posted on the school website.
In Needham, superintendent Dan Gutekanst sent an email to parents Friday assuring them that teachers would be ready for students' questions when they returned Monday. School officials say they want the day to be as normal as possible.
"The principals will meet with their entire faculty and staff early on Monday morning and before students arrive to discuss how to be prepared for students,'' Gutekanst wrote. "Each teacher will receive information and a script about what to do and/or say in the event a student raises a concern or questions about the tragedy.''
Addressing security, he wrote: "We review, plan, and practice emergency responses and protocols with students and staff throughout the year. We collaborate closely with the Needham Police and other public safety and health officials to review plans and procedures to maximize school safety and security. The principals know that attending to student and school safety is their first and most important priority.''
In Lexington, Superintendent of Schools Paul Ash said in a statement posted on the school district’s website that principals, school psychologists, guidance counselors and others would be available Monday and throughout the week.
On behalf of the school district, Ash said he sends his thoughts and prayers to the staff, students and families of Newtown Connecticut as they deal with the horrific tragedy.
“As we seek to comprehend and understand the horror of the event, we naturally think about how we can support children and families during this very difficult time,” Ash wrote.
Lexington’s School District has posted links to online resources for talking about school violence on its website.
Principals at Newton South High and Newton North High sent emailed announcments to the school communities over the weekend explaining the plans, assuring parents and students that security procedures were in place and offering tips on how to handle questions about the tragedy.
"Advisors and counselors will be ready to answer students’ questions after the moment of silence. We will also have counselors available in their offices for the entire day for any student who needs additional support,'' Newton South Principal Joel Stembridge said in an email sent Sunday.
Newton North Principal Jennifer Price sent a nearly identical message over the weekend.
"This type of tragedy inevitably makes us all re-examine our school safety. Please know that we have taken a number of actions over the last few years to make Newton South a safer place and will continue to work to make South as safe as possible,'' Stembridge's message said.
In Everett, the Immaculate Conception Parish is holding a prayer service Monday at 6 pm at the church.