From the opening moment of silence, the specter of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting that resulted in the death of 20 young students and six teachers hung over the Monday meeting of the Hopatcong Board of Education.
The fears of residents and the concerns of staff surfaced often during the meeting, even during a rambling discussion about the stalled contract negotiations with support staff.
Superintendent Charles Maranzano said he and the district’s administrative staff reviewed the safety protocols at recent meetings.
Those sessions were part of an on-going review of safety measures that include monthly drills for all schools, and desktop sessions with safety and crisis teams. The district has 76 safety protocols, Maranzano said. The school’s video system is tied into the Hopatcong police station, he said.
School board president Clifford Lundin said that the board recently hired a school safety officer for the high school, even though that person is not armed, and the rooms of the schools are marked on the outside to make it easier for police to find a particular room if necessary during a incident.
He said the board discussed placing police officers in each school, but the cost approached $750,000 annually.
“We go above and beyond,” Maranzano said. “But could you stop someone every time? Probably not.”
Several parents were concerned about the apparent ease by which a person can enter the Hudson Maxim School. They were concerned that while Maranzano said the main entrance was locked and entry requires calling the main office, that anyone entering with bad intent could be inside the school before anyone noticed. It was suggested that everyone planning to enter the school show and identification card and be forced to wait outside the school until the purpose for the visit was confirmed.
Lundin said that a school aide greets each person as they enter the school.
Maranzano said there has to be a balance between the need for security and the need to allow parents and others with business at the schools to enter.
He said there was a mild dispute with a parent Monday who was unhappy they were made to wait before being allowed to enter a school.
Police officer Andrew Diamond, who said he helped draw up the school’s security measures, said that the schools should have a double entry-door system which would allow someone to wait inside the school vestibule but not in the hallways, until their identification was verified.
Such a system would slow down anyone seeking to harm anyone in the school, and allow the to arrive. In Hopatcong, he said, police would be five minutes away.
He said the schools should have armed police in the hallways, not just to confront a possible intruder, but to deal with domestic abuse, drugs and violence that exist in the schools.
Resident Brian Sterling asked what it would take to get funds in the annual budget to pay for police coverage in the schools. He wondered if a question could be placed on the annual school ballot.
Lundin said that question could be placed on the annual ballot seeking an additional budget appropriation.
Maranzano said he welcomed comments and suggestions from residents, and urged those in attendance to email their thoughts to him.