Armed security guards on radar of Greenwich Public Schools
Updated 10:27 pm, Friday, January 4, 2013
Connecticut's wealthiest municipality is openly considering the posting of armed guards in all of its public schools, where security has become a paramount concern of parents following last month's shooting rampage in Newtown.
In a district-wide letter sent out Thursday, Greenwich Public Schools Superintendent William McKersie said he is continuing to field emails from parents and staff calling for security to be beefed up, with an untold number of them lobbying for armed guards.
"Adding armed guards at all schools, which some parents have advocated, is a complicated step that presents many pros and cons, and may ultimately have minimal effects in the type of tragedies in Newtown and Columbine," McKersie wrote. "Nevertheless, we will consider the option as we review our safety and security procedures relative to best practices in Connecticut and nationally."
McKersie, who is in his first year as Greenwich's schools chief, told Greenwich Time Friday that parents have weighed in on both sides of posting armed guards throughout the district.
"We have as many saying they don't want that," McKersie said. "I would say it's a very open back-and-forth in terms of what I'm seeing."
McKersie said he won't allow public opinion to dictate the steps taken by the district, but will take cues from police, the first selectman and other municipalities.
"We're in the midst of a very comprehensive look at our procedures," McKersie said. Twenty children ages 7 and under and six female educators were killed when a heavily armed gunman forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Dec. 14 and sprayed the building with bullets before turning a gun on himself.
Since 2007, the Greenwich Police Department has assigned an armed school resource officer to Greenwich High School, which also has unarmed campus security guards. Visitors to the town's public schools are required to be buzzed in through a main entrance, which is typically locked. At GHS, they must sign in with security.
"You can be assured that the Greenwich Public Schools are safe and secure," McKersie wrote to parents and staff in his letter, the third or fourth sent out by his office since the shootings.
Neighboring Stamford recently posted unarmed security guards at all of its public schools, which McKersie referenced in his letter to parents and staff.
Dina Murphy, the mother of a first-grader and fourth-grader at Riverside School, emailed her network of parents this week to push for Greenwich to follow the lead of Stamford.
"My sense is that the community at-large is more comfortable with the notion of unarmed guards," Murphy told Greenwich Time. "I might personally be more open to armed guards."
Murphy said that she is trying to build "critical mass" ahead of a Jan. 17 meeting of the Riverside Association where McKersie is scheduled to speak.
"I think any type of security presence is better than none," Murphy said. "I know we can't live in a completely protected, perfect world. I think even the presence of an unarmed guard would be a deterrent."
First Selectman Peter Tesei, the town's chief elected official, said the community and the country need to take a holistic approach to dealing with violence in schools, from rewriting gun control laws to improving treatment of persons with mental illnesses to rethinking the content of video games and movies.
"We can't look at this just in isolation of schools," Tesei said. "I think that's being somewhat short-sighted because our children are in many environments."
As the parent of two small children, including one who is in kindergarten, Tesei said he's not sure posting armed security guards at the elementary schools would be effective.
"The playground is openly accessible at some of our schools," Tesei said. "I think we would be lulled into somewhat of a false sense of security."
Tesei expressed his support for the current system of having an armed police officer at Greenwich High School, as well as unarmed security guards.
While the school resource officer is available to the three middle schools, Tesei said he would support having at least one more cop assigned to them.
Tesei opposes employing private security guards who are armed at the schools, as well as arming teachers. He also wondered whether the high school should be converted to a closed campus.
"The ability of students to come and go does raise an issue of security," Tesei said.
McKersie echoed Tesei's comments in opposition to the hiring of armed security guards who are not police officers.
"If we were ever to go that way, it would have to be school resource officers," McKersie said.
PTA Council President Lisa Beth Savitz praised Greenwich police for safeguarding the schools and said she would want to consult with law enforcement professionals before judging the merits of having security guards at every location in the district.
"I would hate to make a decision based on my emotional gut reaction," Savitz said. "The tragedy is just so recent and raw. It seems like we should have a little distance and perspective before we start really overhauling things and I think it should be done with an eye for what's best for the children."
The PTA Council will hold its first meeting since the Sandy Hook massacre on Friday.
"It's not something that we ever thought was going to happen in Connecticut, so it's not something that we've looked at," Savitz said of posting security guards at the schools. "It's such a hard issue."
Selectman Drew Marzullo panned the idea of assigning armed security guards to each school, however.
"An armed guard does not stand the chance against a psycho or a terrorist with a semi-automatic weapon wearing body armor," Marzullo said. "This notion of combating gun violence by introducing more guns in public areas is a dangerous, false sense of security."
The Democrat raised concerns about the precedent that posting armed guards would set.
"Schools with multiple entrances, playgrounds, movie theaters, Greenwich Avenue places of worship, where does it stop?" Marzullo said. "Having armed guards is not in the value or fabric of our community."
Marzullo couched his comments to say that if it is necessary to have armed security at schools, he prefers that they be police or professional law enforcement officers.
While Greenwich Public Schools take stock of the security at each of its facilities, from checking locks to reviewing lock-down drills, McKersie wrote that there will be a heightened law enforcement presence throughout the district.
"Please know that the Greenwich Police Department will continue to provide an increased presence around all our schools for the next couple of weeks," McKersie wrote. "Police will be in uniform and in civilian attire, as well as in standard and unmarked police vehicles. In addition, police patrols will continue to give highest priority to any and all events in or around our schools."
A message seeking comment from school board Chairman Leslie Moriarty was left by the newspaper Friday.
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