Members of the Linwood Police Department will take turns randomly visiting the city’s schools in an effort to add another layer of security to the school district.
Police Chief Robert James said officers of all ranks within the department will visit on any given day, stressing that the success of the program depends on the randomness of the visits, rather than a specific schedule or time frame.
The police presence, he hopes, should become a comforting sight for students.
“The officers can build up rapport with the kids,” James said, adding that a similar program was in place in Northfield.
The officers will be friends with the students and develop bonds of mutual trust, James said. “It’s a grass-roots type of thing in getting to know people.”
James spoke about the program Friday morning at a Parent Teacher Organization, or PTO, meeting at which parents and school officials discussed security concerns following the December shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Linwood school administrators are fighting to keep the hallways from feeling like a prison, while coping with calls for more structure.
“That is something I absolutely don’t want to do,” Superintendent Tom Baruffi said at the PTO meeting.
The goal is to strike a balance, Baruffi said, in safety and preserving the educational environment.
Parent Ava Cocchi suggested more structure on the playground and engaging students in games to prevent bullying and fighting.
Samantha Coyle, president of the teacher’s union and a third-grade teacher at Seaview Elementary School, said, “Conflict is necessary. You are never going to know how to resolve conflicts in your life otherwise. Conflict is everywhere, even amongst adults at work.”
Baruffi agreed, explaining that while bullying is a serious offense and investigated by the schools, conflicts are a normal part of growing up.
“I am so against structured recess. It’s the worst thing you can do,” he said.
Susan Speirs, principal of Seaview Elementary, said it is possible to present the option of an organized game while not mandating participation.
Other issues parents brought up had to do with the drop-off procedure, which involves leaving students in front of the school, after which they line up by class outside the building until school starts.
Currently, parents are allowed to stand with their children, and in doing so are able to interact with each other, Speirs said.
One suggestion was to take that away to create a more secure school premises, but a majority of parents at the meeting opposed that idea.
Controlling the entryways of the building, as well as the number of parents and volunteers, was also suggested.
Parent Stacy Ordille said there should be more accountability for parents who volunteer, ensuring they are all briefed on school policy and procedures at the same time at the beginning of the year.
If they miss the briefing, they should not be allowed to volunteer, Ordille said.
But there is a limit on how much of the school district’s emergency plan parents can know, officials said at the meeting.
It is important to keep specific phases of the plan restricted to law-enforcement officers, James said.
Speirs said there had even been a request to put the emergency plan on the internet, but that would leave the school even more vulnerable to an attack.
A follow-up meeting is set to take place at 6 p.m. on Feb. 6 at Belhaven Middle School.
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