Peabody students, parents and school employees may be seeing some changes in security measures at the city’s schools in the future in light of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school in December.
Superintendent Joe Mastrocola asked the School Committee Tuesday night to support obtaining an expert safety assessment of all the city's public schools and current safety and crisis protocols.
He said the assessment could serve as a guide and help school and city officials better plan for any future improvements.
Mastrocola said safety within the city's schools is a "primary goal" for the district, along with teaching and learning.
The committee did discuss the issue in executive session earlier that evening, but did not comment publicly on the subject in open session and simply approved Mastrocola’s request.
Mastrocola told reporters after the meeting adjourned that while he is confident the district already has necessary safety and security measures in place, there's always room for upgrades. One thing he would like to see implemented at all schools is a badge identification/security system.
While visitors at any of the eight elementary schools generally have to buzz in and report to the main office, public access to Higgins Middle School and Peabody High is often much easier.
PVMHS and the Higgins do each have a full-time police officer on duty -- a school resource officer -- while a third officer rotates between the elementary schools.
Mastrocola was quick to note that even a badge ID system, however, would not stop a shooter or other violent outbreak if that were ever to happen in Peabody.
"Six months from now the discussion is going to change from locks and keys to mental health," he said, which is an "important" part of the dialogue in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy along with gun control and school safety.
"Every person in this country was affected by it [Sandy Hook]," Mastrocola said earlier in the evening. "It was a challenging time in our schools, and because of the good work of our teaching staff, paraprofessionals, administrators and school personnel, we were able to get through a very difficult time."
Mastrocola extended his thanks to parents as well for understanding and cooperation over the past month in the aftermath of the tragedy.
In addition to an increased police presence at schools in the days afterward, administrators and teachers also continued to review existing safety and crisis management protocols while school counselors made themselves available at all schools to talk with and comfort students.
"I want to inform you, going forward, that we have many other measures that we're looking at and partaking in," Mastrocola said Tuesday, directing his comments to the audience and parents watching at home.
He said school administrators and staff met with public safety officials for a safety summit in the immediate wake of the tragedy to "discuss some of things we should be looking at." Mastrocola added that the district has already secured a grant to help fund some future upgrades.
He said that even before Sandy Hook, district leadership meetings regularly addressed safety and crisis management. The NorthEastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council in fact put on a full-day workshop in Peabody this past summer to provide training in those areas to staff.
"I want to let the community know, and the School Committee know, we continue always to make safety our first priority in the school district," Mastrocola said.
Mayor Ted Bettencourt shared those sentiments, telling Peabody Patch after the meeting adjourned that there will always room for improvements in school safety and security measures.
He said communities everywhere are dealing with these same concerns in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.
Bettencourt said he will reach out first to NEMLEC, which Peabody is a member of, for guidance on conducting a safety assessment of the city's schools.