During Monday's Board of Selectmen meeting at Town Hall, Superintendent of Schools Stephen Falcone said while he does not recommend having armed guards at the schools as protection against intruders, he might recommend "some other kind of security" personnel in the future, without being specific.
Falcone said the school administration "has done a lot" to improve security at school facilities since the 1999 shooting tragedy at Columbine High School in Colorado, including installing magnetic keyless locks on entry doors used by school staff; putting buzzers on front entrances; installing video surveillance systems; implementing help desks with sign-in systems; and expanding the use of two-way radios among staff.
"School security continues to be an area of focus for us — and we've done a lot throughout the district to improve security," Falcone said, adding that the staff is also obligated to conduct fire drills, as well as practice lockdowns and other "non-fire" type drill activities, under state statute.
In addition the school staff receives "crisis response training" that includes guidelines on how to react to situations such as a natural disaster or an active shooter inside a building, he said. In addition all staff and volunteers are trained to watch out for suspicious people.
What's more the schools have established an "active security and safety committee" which meets once a month and is responsible for reporting facilities-related safety and security issues.
"They are our eyes and ears of the school," Falcone said, adding that these staffers are responsible for detecting "major safety issues" such doors that don't close or lock properly.
However, Falcone said based on the recent school shooting in Newtown, "there's certainly a lot more that we can do…" To that end the schools maintenance staff recently undertook a "hardware survey" to make sure all doors and locks are working properly… addressing issues such as "can classroom doors be locked from the inside?" He said more keyless locks are also planned for certain school entryways.
Falcone said the administration is also paying attention to what other districts are doing — for example, some towns have implemented "double entry" systems with a vestibule at the front entrance of each school. Once a visitor is buzzed in, a school staff member meets them in the vestibule and then escorts them to where they are going.
Falcone said the school administration would be working closely with police over the next few weeks "to update our drills and procedures." He said police have conducted drills at each facility — in addition police will be meeting with school administrators to go over policies and procedures after all security protocols have been reviewed.
He said one idea being discussed is giving police direct access to the video surveillance systems at the schools, so they could potentially have a live video feed during an incident.
The real challenge, Falcone said, is to maintain a school environment that is "welcoming… while at the same time making safety and security a priority…"
He said the school administration might consider bringing in a consultant to look at the issue, "but for now we are handling it in house."
Darien Police Chief Duane Lovello said immediately after the tragedy in Newtown, police requested copies of all school policies and procedures with regard to security "for internal review" by the department.
He confirmed that police will be meeting with school administrators in the upcoming weeks to review the safety and security plan for each facility. In addition police will be checking all school hardware and communications systems to make sure all are in good working order.
Selectman David Bayne asked Falcone if the school administration had reviewed its anti-bullying policies or stepped up its efforts to identify students who are isolated or troubled.
Falcone explained that monitoring the mental health of students and identifying those who are "not connected" has been an ongoing activity in the Darien schools since the Columbine tragedy.