2013-02-07 / Schools

O.T. schools, police review security at elementary schools

Schools chief assures community that district schools are safe
Staff Writer

OCEAN TOWNSHIP — School officials and police revisited security measures at elementary schools in the Ocean Township School District in light of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

School Superintendent John Lysko said last week that prior to the incident, which left 20 kindergarten students and six staff members dead after an intruder forced his way into the school, the focus had been on the district’s middle and high schools.

“That’s why this situation in Connecticut is what we refer to as a real low blow for school security,” Lysko said during a Jan. 30 interview.

“As a result of [the 1999 school shooting in] Columbine [Colo.], our district’s efforts were aimed at our intermediate school and certainly our high school.

“No one ever thought an incident like this could occur at an elementary school.”

Lysko said that since the Dec. 14 incident, school officials have worked hand-in-hand with the Ocean Township Police Department to bolster security measures.

“The district continues to refine our practices related to school safety,” he said.

“We’ve been working within the district to improve a number of security procedures that include the expanded use of digital cameras, additional security barriers in the foyers or corridors of the main entrance of each our schools,” he added.

According to Lysko, the district and the police department performed a security audit for all three elementary schools and found no major security breaches.

“There were no major things found, but a number of minor refinements were made at the elementary schools,” he said. “Basically, in our elementary schools, doors are locked during the regular school day and visitors are screened through a security camera and the office personnel before they enter.”

Police Chief Steven Peters explained some of the security issues that were identified at the elementary schools.

“We brought up a lot of basic issues we are seeing as far as door security and access control points and things of that nature,” he said. “We don’t get a lot of police calls at the grammar schools compared to the high school.”

Lysko said each of the district’s five schools have cameras synced with the police department.

“The security cameras are an extra layer of protection; the Ocean Township Police Department also has access to all of our cameras,” he said.

“The … department has been tremendously cooperative with the school district in helping us to continue to refine our security,” he added. “Immediately after the [Newtown, Conn.] shootings in December, I had a meeting with our chief of police and all the principals of the schools to discuss security.”

Peters said that since the shooting, the department’s police officers have been visiting district schools to familiarize themselves with the layout of the buildings.

“I grew up in Ocean Township and I hadn’t been through the elementary schools probably since I’ve been in school,” he said. “Knowing that, a lot of my police force didn’t grow up here in town, a lot of them hadn’t been through the elementary schools.”

According to Peters, should an incident occur, the department’s officers would likely be the first to respond.

“This was a two-fold opportunity — my officers can have more of a presence in the schools and get familiar with the layout so if something should happen they would have a general idea [of layout],” he said. “If we do have an incident at one of the grammar schools, the first responders are going to be the patrol officers that are working that day on the road.”

Lysko said the district has used private security in all schools since the school shooting in Columbine, Colo.

Following Columbine, he said, when two highschool students gunned down 12 of their classmates and one teacher, the Ocean Township district beefed up security in the intermediate and high schools.

Lysko also said that since the Newtown shootings the district has provided training for teachers, security staff and administrators.

“Last week the district had representation at a security conference that was sponsored by the [N.J.] School Board Association,” he said. “As recently as yesterday we had a number of our school personnel and security in a training session held at the Monmouth County Police Academy.”

He said the district has a security plan specific to each school and added that each year district officials meet with the police department to review security procedures.

“As a matter of routine, our school district meets with our local police department at the beginning of the school year to review security procedures and to refine and revise our school security management plan,” he said. “We did that with the police department in October 2012 and then this event happened.

“We revisited the plan to take a look at it,” he added. “Since this occurred on Dec. 14, we have spent an extraordinary amount of time and resources to ensure the safety of our schools.”

Lysko said the prevalence of social media also allows students to police themselves to a certain degree.

“Because of the nature of social media itself, we have had students or parents alert us to things that are on the Internet,” he said. “That surveillance is out there; we don’t have the ability as a school district to monitor everybody’s Facebook account.

“Nevertheless, everybody monitors each other, so if something occurs on there that’s inappropriate, the parents in this community call the school district immediately,” he added.

Lysko said students are given Internet safety classes and part of the class involves social media.

“That is really an advantage for us because the parents watch their kids and the students watch each other,” he said. “The kids know that if something is posted that they think is inappropriate they show it to their parents and the parents call us.”

Lysko reassured parents and members of the community that district schools are safe.

“I just want to ensure everybody in our community that the schools are, and will continue to be, a safe and secure place for both the children and the staff,” he added.

The Ocean Township School District has an enrollment of 3,318 students and encompasses five schools: Ocean Township Elementary (K-4), Wanamassa Elementary School (K-4), Wayside Elementary School (K-4), Ocean Township Intermediate School (5-8) and Ocean Township High School (9- 12).

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