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Official addresses safety concerns

Editor's note: As reported last week in The Reminder, the town of Longmeadow has been working on emergency planning. The Longmeadow School Department has also been taking strides to create guidelines for school safety. The following letter was sent to parents the first week of October.

Dear Parents and Guardians,

In light of recent violent events in schools throughout our country, I am writing to address concerns that you may have about security and safety in our schools.

What have we already done?

This summer I discussed my concerns about safety with both the School Committee and the Administrative Cabinet. I informed them that I would be reestablishing the School/Town Safety Committee that had once existed but had not met in over two years. In September the Safety Committee had their initial meeting of the school year.

The membership includes all building principals, central office administrators, our Substance Abuse Prevention Counselor, an adjustment counselor, a school nurse, representatives from the Police Department, the Fire Chief, the DPW Director, and the Interim Facilities Director.

We have invited representation from the School Committee and the Select Board. The Safety Committee has agreed to develop and implement the policies, plans, and procedures necessary to maximize student and staff safety in the Longmeadow Public Schools. They have already identified and prioritized needs and will be working this month on action plans for implementation.

Before students began school this fall, all of our teachers participated in a professional development workshop that was presented by the Longmeadow Police Department on Critical Incident Response.

Our staff learned the general guidelines for the management of critical incidents within a school by first responding officers. The administration has been working with the police department to provide the assistance and resources that would be needed by responding officers during such events.

Last spring our district worked with the Hampden-Wilbraham school district on a federal grant proposal that resulted in the awarding of a $326,000 Region One Call Emergency Response and Crisis Management grant to Hampden-Wilbraham to assist the seven collaborative districts with emergency preparedness.

Our town leaders supported this grant application with sign-offs from the Select Board, the Police Department, the Fire Department, and the Board of Health. We will benefit from joint training, safety audits, and planning initiatives and will be able to utilize some grant funds to purchase safety tools to meet identified audit needs such as laminated identification tags and emergency "go bags."

Our schools have recently received Public Alert radios, issued by the federal government to all public schools in the nation. These radios not only provide weather-related alerts, but also alerts related to a variety of other local or regional hazards.

At my request, Police Chief Robert Danio and Captain Robert Siano of the Longmeadow Police Department met with our Administrative Cabinet on Oct. 4 to discuss safety issues.

We agreed on procedures to use for heightened security related to school doors and access from the outside. We identified some immediate safety measures that could be implemented and some initiatives that will require additional funding.

We were surprised and pleased by the generous offer of the Police Department to supply our school principals with specially programmed walkie-talkie radios that will enable them to directly contact the police in an emergency. This immediate response to our security concerns is deeply appreciated.

The high school administration and the police department will be coming to the School Committee later this month with a request for approval of a memorandum of agreement regarding the use of a part-time School Resource Officer at Longmeadow High School.

What needs to be done?

While the school department is grateful for the funding that has been provided through Capital Planning for improvements such as the video surveillance system at Longmeadow High School, our schools have many facility improvement needs that are related to security. We must develop long range plans to fund those capital needs, while seeking more immediate solutions to critical security issues.

We must continue to be vigilant and to work with our School/Town Safety Committee partners to make and keep our schools safe.

What can YOU do?

Please approach our schools by the main entrance only. Come directly to the office, sign in, wear a visitor's badge, and go directly to your reported destination. Please understand if you are challenged about your presence in the building.

Talk to your children. Some of them will be hearing messages from their teachers or principals about the need to alert adults about concerns regarding a classmate's behavior, for example.

Encourage your children to share any anxieties about safety issues. Contact your child's principal if you have any information about suspicious behavior or activities that could threaten our school children.

This is a caring community. We can work together to protect our children.


E. Jahn Hart