Pepperell incident prompts desire for safety upgrades

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By Hiroko Sato

MediaNews

TOWNSEND — The North Middlesex Regional School District is looking to further beef up security at Varnum Brook Elementary School in Pepperell after a first-grader walked out of the building without being noticed last month.

North Middlesex Regional School District officials met behind closed doors Tuesday morning to review details of a June 15 incident in which a student was found walking down the street alone during school hours.

The student was safely returned to the school with the help of police about 45 minutes after leaving the building. However, limited information released from the school regarding the incident caused some parents to question school safety.

Superintendent of Schools Maureen Marshall, who organized Tuesday’s safety meeting, said many of the existing security measures worked “remarkably well,” but she hopes to have some devices and protocols added to help teachers and staff become more quickly aware of students’ whereabouts.

Also attending the meeting were Varnum Brook Principal Pauline Cormier, Assistant Principal Eric Magnuson and Pepperell Police Chief David Scott, as well as School Committee Chairman Arnold Silva and committee members Jonna Clermont and Michael Morgan, all of Pepperell. Marshall said the meeting was held behind closed doors because Scott had warned that security measures at the building should not be made public.

The first-grader walked out after a trip to the bathroom as classes were changing. As soon as a teacher realized the student was missing from class, the entire staff immediately went out to different directions to look for him inside the building while making sure all other students were accounted for.

In the meantime, they also checked both inside and outside security cameras, which showed the boy leaving the building, she said. A school employee who was driving toward the school eventually found the student walking on the street and called police just when the school was trying to do so.

Those who attended the meeting discussed ways to better secure the doors and additional protocols for classroom teachers to follow, Marshall said.

“It was a productive meeting,” said Clermont.

“We were just trying to put our heads together,” Morgan said. “We want to ensure children’s safety, and that’s the bottom line.”

Marshall said additional security devices should be installed before the new academic year.