The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 10, 2006


Views differ on Carlisle School security

Police Chief John Sullivan explains police security procedures at the Carlisle School Committee meeting on November 1. Among the listeners are Principal Patrice Hurley (center left) and School Business Manager Heidi Zimmerman (on right). (Photo by Cynthia Sorn)

Carlisle School Committee (CSC) Chair Nicole Burkel started the November 1 meeting by saying the school board had received a number of calls regarding security at the school, spurred by the October 19 incident of the 33-year-old Shrewsbury man found lingering in a black Saturn by the school grounds (see "Police question man loitering by schools," October 27, Mosquito.) Superintendent Marie Doyle said she knew parents were concerned, saying, "We take this very seriously." Carlisle Chief of Police John Sullivan was introduced, having been invited to answer parents' questions regarding school security.

Chief John Sullivan describes school's security

Chief Sullivan began by explaining his experience with the recent lockdown exercise in Carlisle (See "Keeping the Carlisle Public School Safe," October 13, Mosquito.) The purpose of a lockdown is to have everyone stay in a building and enter a secure space. He also participated in two lockdowns in Concord. "We shine over them," he said. "We actually have doors that lock." He said the Carlisle staff was able to produce all keys for all doors, unlike the Concord schools. "One hundred percent was perfect" in the lockdown exercise at Carlisle, he said, which was filmed, he added. "They wanted to use it for training," he added, referring to the STARS (School Threat Assessment and Response System) team, which had representatives at the lockdown exercise.

Police have regional backup: NEMLEC and STARS

Carlisle belongs to North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC), which is a consortium of police from many communities. The chiefs meet monthly to discuss safety concerns in their area. One outgrowth from the collaboration is the creation of the School Threat Assessment and Response System (STARS.) Carlisle and other NEMLEC towns dedicate 10% of one officer's time to STARS. In an emergency, a rapid-response STARS team would be called to help. Stressing communication and teamwork with superintendents throughout the NEMLEC region, the program focuses on incidents and threats such as weapons, Internet threats, narcotics and hate crimes.

Carlisle Police are prepared for rapid response

Chief Sullivan said the Carlisle Police keep a folder regarding school information in the cruisers, at all times. He recognizes that we have an open campus, which can be a challenge. He noted that during his 21 years in Carlisle the town has changed. "People are mobile; society is mobile. Problems could occur next door, the next town or next city, but our officers are ready. In two minutes we'll be able to handle it. If someone is knocking on your door and you don't want to answer it, we'll be there in two minutes."

Person of interest

Chief Sullivan discussed the "person of interest." Though the man did not have a record, Carlisle Police obtained information about him when they ran his license plate and discovered Worcester Police had also checked his plates. After contacting the Worcester Police Department, they decided to take a "pro-active approach" by creating an informational flyer describing the man and his car, Chief Sullivan explained. "Someone grabbed that flyer and put it on the Internet, which puts us in a bad spot," since it was not supposed to be "generally distributed," he said. The man didn't actually do anything, he added. However, "If I had to do it again, I would. I think we acted appropriately and the school acted appropriately." Since the event, he has had cruisers at the school each day.

New school security

Burkel asked Doyle to explain existing and new security procedures at the school. Doyle reported that the staff will be wearing new nametags. She stressed the importance of having all visitors report first to the office to receive a visitor's nametag. Any person not wearing a nametag will be told by staff members to return to the office to obtain one. Workers who are not from the Carlisle community will be escorted, explained Doyle in a later e-mail. All exterior doors facing the exterior of the campus will be locked, she said. The staff is "vigilant" when the buses arrive and leave, Doyle added. Committee member Wendell Sykes suggested staff, when instructing a parent to obtain a nametag from the office, call the office to make them aware of the situation. Committee member Christy Barbee suggested turning the main office staff desks around so they can keep an eye on the plaza.

Security will be discussed at Superintendent's Coffee Nov. 16

Burkel asked Carlisle School Association (CSA) President Dale Ryder if she had received phone calls from parents concerned about security at the school. Dale said she had received "one or two" and had passed the information on to Doyle. "We decided we will have a coffee," explained Ryder, which will be on November 16, from 9 to 10 a.m., to talk about school security. Ryder said many parents have told her they did not want the school "to be fenced in." Committee member Michael Fitzgerald agreed, saying it would be better to not create an "over-protected environment."

CSC member Wendell Sykes said he wondered about the transition of "school to parent, parent to school," in which the students are getting on and off the buses. Assistant to the Superintendent Claire Wilcox pointed out "the bus drivers are excellent. They bring the kids back when they know the parent is usually supposed to be there" at the bus stop.

Parent questions

Burkel opened the meeting to citizens' questions. Parent Nancy Cowen said she was "very reassured" by the use of teacher name tags. She suggested they be "very visual," noting younger children won't be able to read the text. Parent Dennis McCollum asked Chief Sullivan, "What are the officers told if there is not enough time for other officers [the STARS team] to come?" The officers won't hesitate to enter the school buildings, Chief Sullivan replied. "We rely on NEMLEC, but we are coming in. We have bullet-proof vests and we're highly trained."

Parent Ann Jackson asked Doyle what school volunteers can do when they see someone they believe should be questioned. She also wondered if volunteers could be extended to patrol the perimeters of the school campus. Doyle replied the volunteers should feel justified in approaching anyone without a tag. However, it was noted it would be difficult to pull in more volunteers in addition to the five to ten already coming for lunch and recess duty each day.

Parent Robert Jahari said locking all the doors would be the best way to keep the kids safe. He also noted concerns with the single bathroom setup (one for girls, one for boys) in the kindergarten wing of the Spalding Building. He said children were supposed to travel to the bathrooms "with a buddy" but he understands this has not been happening. He presented a letter addressed to the school committee, and noted that he and parent Danielle Fries have met with Principals Patrice Hurley and Paul Graseck, and with Doyle. "Unfortunately Superintendent Doyle and I do not see eye to eye on how to best protect our children." He writes, "Currently we are letting our children roam freely outside in the plaza." His school security suggestions include hiring a professional security company to evaluate school security, hire a security officer to "stand outside the plaza while school is in session," post a hall monitor by each school door, assign an adult to accompany kindergarteners to the bathroom, install "security cameras by each exit door, the plaza, the play areas and the parking lot. In the future, cameras in the hallways would be also desirable," fence the playground, assign more recess supervision, and lock all doors while school is in session. Parent Roxanne Brazina responded by saying, "You can't just fence the whole campus in."

Parent Monica Granfield noted the heavy reliance on recess volunteers. "God forbid something happens," she said, while parents are in charge. Hurley replied that volunteers have received more training this year. Parent Amanda Jahari said she had observed only one staff member on duty, during a day she volunteered.

Superintendent responds

Doyle stressed that in general all schools are safe. Statistics agree with her. According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center (, "Less than 1% of the murders of children and teens in the United States are school-related, and there is no evidence that school-related homicides are on the rise. You are much more likely to be struck by lightening than to be killed at your school... Schools are about the safest place for teens — safer than their homes or their neighborhoods — and violent deaths at schools or school events are extremely rare." In a later phone conversation Doyle said, "I am very interested in hearing parents' perspectives when we meet on November16."She noted Carlisle is a safe town, and the school does everything it can to keep children safe.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito