Skip to content

GET BREAKING NEWS IN YOUR BROWSER. CLICK HERE TO TURN ON NOTIFICATIONS.

X

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

By Sarah Favot

MediaNews

LOWELL — A recent lockdown at Nashoba Valley Technical High School when a student entered the school with a BB gun that resembled a rifle caused Superintendent of Schools Judith Klimkiewicz to rethink the school’s security policies.

Although the student entered the school through a locked door and was buzzed in, Klimkiewicz said she is considering locking even the front door of the school, the only door that remains unlocked.

When security breaches happen in schools, administrators and school-committee members often revisit policies that are designed to keep students safe.

Thomas Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said questions about school security often come up among superintendents and he would be surprised if schools didn’t have security policies in place created by school committees.

However, MASS, the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, or the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education do not track individual school districts’ security policies, although policies can vary greatly from district to district.

DESE spokesman JC Considine said the department refers school districts to U.S. Department of Education model emergency and evacuation plans when school districts are developing policies, but has no specific requirements.

Rep. Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, filed a bill this year that would require all public schools in the commonwealth to keep all exterior doors locked, except the front door. The bill is in committee.

Last December, Wilmington High School was locked down when a student brought a BB gun to school. Superintendent Joanne Benton said policies were reviewed following the incident, but no changes were made.

She said all exterior doors in each school are locked 15 minutes after classes begin until dismissal. She said there are cameras at each front door and anyone who wishes to enter the building must be buzzed in by staff.

Lowell Public Schools’ School Resource Officer Sgt. John Dolan said all of the district’s elementary schools and middle schools keep their exterior doors locked and visitors are required to be buzzed in.

The high school proves more difficult because students are moving in and out of the three buildings throughout the day; however, the school is equipped with a 150-security camera system that cost about $500,000. Also, five police officers are at the high school, as well as six security guards.

Dolan said there is not much more could be done security-wise, unless the School Department was willing to spend the funds.

He said he wouldn’t recommend installing metal detectors because it would be time-consuming to have the students go through the detectors every morning and every time they left the building.

He said students bringing weapons into the school is not a prevalent problem.

Lowell School Committee member James Leary said the School Committee relies on the school-resource officers.

If the school resource officers thought extra steps should be taken to secure the building, like metal detectors, the School Committee would take those recommendations seriously, Leary said.

“If the resource officers recommended (metal detectors) we would definitely look to do that,” he said. “They’re the professionals.”

Another aspect of security policies is how school administrators determine when safety is threatened.

Benton said every threat that she is made aware of is taken seriously. She added that there are automatic steps that are taken such as notifying the police, locking down the building and a crisis-team meeting to determine further steps such as evacuating the building.

Dolan said every threat is taken seriously.

“In the back of your mind, you know it’s probably nothing, but you can’t be sure,” he said. Since incidents, like the shooting at Columbine High School, he said security has intensified.

“Everything is taken a lot more seriously and everything is investigated to the fullest,” he said. If a teacher overhears a student say bomb or gun, it is reported to police and a whole investigation is conducted.

“It’s kind of overkill, but you never know,” he said.

Scott said he believes when most school administrators receive information about a threat, they work with public safety officials to determine what steps to take.

“When something happens, there are a sort of factors that they weigh based on the specific incident in terms of whether this is a legitimate threat or whether it’s a hoax,” he said.

Join the Conversation

We invite you to use our commenting platform to engage in insightful conversations about issues in our community. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable to us, and to disclose any information necessary to satisfy the law, regulation, or government request. We might permanently block any user who abuses these conditions.