The North Kingstown School Committee dedicated part of its Tuesday night meeting to an issue that has been on the minds of parents and students around the country since Dec. 14 – the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"I don't think there was any community that didn't think Sandy Hook couldn't happen to them," said North Kingstown School Superintendent Phil Auger.
Following the deadly shooting in Newtown, CT that left 26 people (20 of them children) dead at the hands of shooter Adam Lanza, North Kingstown school officials have been working to tighten up security at schools across the district. At North Kingstown High School, administrators have restricted access to the building: visitors can now only enter the building through the main entrance during school hours.
According to North Kingstown Police Chief Thomas Mulligan, the police department has increased its presence at all schools in the district. Officers have been instructed to focus on schools in their areas of patrols and details, said Mulligan, ranging from walkthroughs, checking in with principals, being present for the arrival and departure of students, etc.
"It's not a presence from start to finish, but it is an increase in presence," said Mulligan.
School administrators are also looking to revamp crisis response plans for all schools and for the district. School Committee Member Larry Ceresi and Town Manager Michael Embury both explained that the details of these plans and law enforcement response procedures would not be released to the public.
"We don't want some of that information out there for the obvious reasons," said Ceresi. "The staff and community has to put some trust into school administration and the police department that their questions and concerns are heard and being addressed."
One such concern was brought up by a parent at the meeting over the vulnerability of two of North Kingstown schools – Stony Lane and Suzanne M. Henseler Quidnessett Elementary Schools. Both schools feature an "open classroom" layout where most classes are held in a large, open area of the school. There are no doors or closets in the classrooms, which are separated by partitions. Stephanie Sullivan of Arcadia Drive has two daughters who attend Quidnessett.
"It's hard for me to think if someone had gotten into the building and opened fire," said Sullivan. "It scares me as a parent because I feel like our kids wouldn't have a fighting chance."
According to Mulligan, Quidnessett's principal Louise Denette was among the first school administrators to contact him regarding school safety, recognizing the challenges her school faced in terms of security.
Though school and town officials are working to improve school safety, Embury noted that North Kingstown schools were ahead of the curve in terms of school safety.
"Policies that were put in place here were probably ahead of their time," said Embury, who added that North Kingstown schools installed surveillance cameras before many other schools in nearby municipalities.
Auger added that State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is also looking into school safety and security in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy and that the Rhode Island Department of Education may be issuing procedures and practices in the near future.