ROXBURY — The latest measures and training to improve the safety of students were discussed at a joint meeting of the board of education and township officials on Monday.
About 150, mostly parents of students, attended Monday’s meeting at Roxbury High School. They asked what the district, council and police are doing to keep their children safe following the mass shooting that killed 17 last month at a Parkland, Florida high school.
“In the 32 years I’ve worked in this town, I’ve never seen a group meeting like this,” said former Roxbury Police Chief James Simonetti, now director of security for the Roxbury School District.
A PowerPoint presentation by Simonetti and current Police Chief Marc Palanchi addressed many of the parents’ safety concerns.
Some of the physical changes are already in place, including security vestibules installed in the high school, Eisenhower Middle School and Lincoln-Roosevelt Elementary School. The vestibules, with two sets of doors, also will be installed this year at the four remaining elementary schools in the district.
Technology upgrades include the use of collaborative response graphics, which integrate Google Earth maps and floor plans to guide first responders to specific locations within school buildings.
Training for students and staff includes implementation of “ALICE,” an acronym for “alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate.”
A parent of a fifth-grader, Julianne Estrada, said she was surprised to learn from her child that students had been instructed “to take the opportunity to apprehend a perpetrator if the opportunity arises,” she said. “I’m wondering, considering these are developing minds that can’t really rationalize these things, I’m wondering how we can communicate what we’re seeing, as parents, how they’re processing what they are being taught.”
Simonetti explained that all security lessons are “age-appropriate.”
“That’s the ‘C’ in ‘ALICE,’ ” he said. “We’re not asking our grammar-school kids to engage someone. We’re asking them to not just lay there. We’re not asking them to fight. We’re asking them to flee for their life. To throw something at them and flee. Unfortunately at Columbine, they just laid there under tables, and the actor came back in.”
“The main message we want to teach our children is that they are not victims,” school district Superintendent Loretta Radulic said. “We are trying to empower them, not to put the burden on children. “
Parent Laurel Whitney said she’s happy the district took security seriously and asked if metal detectors have been considered.
“The security vestibules are not used for students, only visitors,” she said. “What about screening the students, because that has been the situation in the past with school shooters?”
“We’re discussing all of these security enhancements,” Simonetti said.
Simonetti outlined several other actions being taken to improve security, but stressed that one of the most effective methods was the well-known “if you see something, say something.”
He also expressed gratitude for the chance to speak to all of the security stakeholders in one place.
“I’ve got my firefighters, I’ve got my faculty, I’ve got the board and I’ve got the parents,” he said. “The most important aspects in this job is to have the support of your community to work on a problem we need to solve together. I’ve got the chief of police, who I worked with side-by-side for over 20 years. We have a great team approach.”
“I’m sure there will be different ideas that will come about from this,” said Mayor Mark Crowley. “But tonight, I think it’s important that we all just share what’s being done.”
“What I want you to keep in mind is that these actions are not new,” Radulic said. “We are not being reactive to situations. Rather, we’ve been proactive and planning all along. As such, I truly believe Roxbury is a safe district and community.”