Coming to you live from the same folks who can't seem to manage phone or email. Great that somehow any attention was given to such an important thing. Not great that the same cast of characters who cannot seem to implement correctly and completely the simplest of systems (and make sure they stay operational) are the ones we're supposed to trust with the safety of our children.
Melrose Public Schools are operating with a new set of policies designed to ensure students, teachers and staff are safe at all times.
Superintendent of Schools Cyndy Taymore said several procedures have been updated and applied throughout the schools.
During the 2013 summer, a school safety committee — comprised of school personnel, the Department of Public Works, police, fire and other city officials — met to review and rewrite the school emergency operations plan.
The manual was completed the following spring and distributed to every classroom over the summer, in time for the start of the new school year. It addresses a variety of situations, including shelter in place, lockdowns, acts of violence, fires, explosions and more.
Schools have also implemented a new practice this year: evacuation drills.
"Every school has an offsite space to which they can evacuate," Taymore said. "We have been practicing those."
A crisis prevention and intervention team is in place at each school and consists of staff that is trained on how to respond during emergency situations. All classrooms will be equipped with go-kits, which contain pertinent information about students.
"If we have to evacuate for a fire drill or other reason, the teacher can just grab the go-kit and have all the information they need," Taymore said.
Police also have a presence inside school buildings to provide any needed aid or assistance. School Resource Officer Jim Applegate is on campus daily at Melrose High School and the Melrose Veterans Memorial Middle School, and he is available to the elementary schools.
Mayor Rob Dolan said schools are operating under a different mentality in terms of school safety than they were a decade ago.
"Today, due to a new time — it’s just not Sandy Hook and Columbine, the list is very long — every threat has to be taken seriously," Dolan said. "Every hate crime has to be taken seriously. The new mentality is going from one to 10. Ten being the highest level of reaction because you just don’t know."
He added safety has always been a priority in schools and emergency situations do sometimes occur, but the climate surrounding these issues is much more severe.
"Bad people are not a new phenomenon," he said. "These shocking crimes, particularly at schools and municipal buildings, it has taken away a bit of our freedom. That’s the new world. That’s 2014."
To better monitor the high school, numerous cameras were installed inside the building this summer.
Jorge Pazos, the city’s IT director, said cameras are now in the common areas, lobbies, hallways and outside of classrooms.
Officials, however, declined to comment on how many cameras are now in the building.
The cameras are also positioned to capture students coming in and out of bathrooms (but not inside the restrooms). After several false bomb threats last school year, it became a priority for the district to better monitor those areas to deter anyone from leaving threatening messages.
The system is designed to create a "trap zone," which allows for maximum coverage throughout the school.
"Once you walk into the zone of the cameras, I have you from there, throughout the building," Pazos said. "They’re set up in such a way that there’s not a gap between cameras."
School officials and the Police Department can now view the cameras’ live feed.
"There are new cameras in there that the police have access to in order to investigate any crimes that may take place inside the school," said Lt. Mark DeCroteau, of MHS. "And to enhance the safety of the student body and the administration."
Front-door security has also improved at MHS. Prior to entering the building, administrators can see a full picture of the person, whereas before, they were only looking at an individual’s headshot.
"You could have been coming in with a weapon, and we wouldn’t have seen that," Pazos said. "It’s a full body that they see now — we’re looking at you in your entirety when you try and gain access."
Pazos added the system was also developed to allow more cameras to be added, if needed, at the high school and other buildings in the district.
The Police Department is in the process of working with the schools to implement a radio program in all of the buildings.
DeCroteau said the system would allow the school administration to have direct contact with police in the event of an emergency, instead of having to call on the phone and go through dispatch.
This could include if there were an intruder in a school building or even medical emergencies.
"There will be some criteria that will have to qualify for them to use this," DeCroteau said. "This is a radio that they will have to be constantly monitored and constantly limited to just one person’s use or the administration only."
Those authorized to utilize the radio will be trained on the different emergency codes, along with the basic functions of the radio, including the distress button.
"It’s an extra tool that we have and an extra method of communication with the schools," DeCroteau said of the program. "It’s part of the plan to make the school safer."