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Nervous Parents Ask For Police Presence In Berkeley Township Elementary Schools

Requests made at an often-emotional school safety meeting in the wake of Newtown, Connecticut massacre

It could happen here.

Close to 200 concerned parents came to the Berkeley Township Elementary School Tuesday night looking for information on school security after the horrific shootings at a Connecticut elementary school last Friday.

Several asked for increased police presence in all four elementary schools.

"God forbid somebody gets in our schools," said Kelly Gross, a Central Regional High School teacher with a child who attends a Berkeley Township school. "We need trained professionals."

"I can't be concerned about whether the school pays for it or the township," she said, and the audience applauded. "I'll be everywhere. I'm not going to stop. Everyone needs to get involved. We can't just show up when something bad happens. Let's not be complacent and let's not let this fall by the wayside."

Currently, D.A.R.E. Police Officer Scott Selby rotates between the four schools on a daily basis. But that wasn't enough for some parents.

"I have a concern about officers not being in each of our schools," another woman said. "The threats aren't lessening, they are increasing against our children. We need to get police officers back in our schools."

One woman even said school professionals should be armed.

"I don't condone arming our staff," one woman said at the end of the meeting. "You cannot just hand everybody a weapon."

"You don't have to wait ten to 20 minutes for a cop to show up," the woman replied."

Berkeley Township police officers have been stationed at all four schools during opening and dismissal times all week, and make car patrols each day, Berkeley Township Schools Superintendent James D. Roselli said.

Township Council President James J. Byrnes - who is the facilities director in the Freehold Regional school district - commended Berkeley Roselli and the district staff for holding the meeting.

"You guys are right on track," Byrnes said.

"There's nothing beats a cop in the school," he added, and the audience applauded.

Roselli repeatedly said that "everything was on the table when it came to suggestions."

"This is a conversation we shouldn't even be having," Roselli said grimly. "This is a society issue. We have to come together as a community. We are meeting tonight because we want to let you know that your concerns are our concerns."

County superintendents meet

Roselli said he attended a roundtable meeting of all Ocean County school superintendents earlier in the day. The topic was school safety and how to prevent future tragic events.

"You are going to see our local Boards of Education write letters to lobbyists and demand increases for school districts," he said. "Everything is being looked at. I'm expecting a lot of things to be coming down the pike."

Roselli, the principals of the four elementary schools, Police Chief Karin T. DiMichele and fire officials met before school opened on Monday to discuss how to handle the situation before students arrived. Crisis team members were on hand for children who needed them, he said.

The decision was made not to initiate discussion with the children about the Newtown shootings unless the children brought it up, Bayville Elementary School Principal Mary Guinan said. "We didn't feel it was our place. That's your decision as parents."

The most frequent question children had when they returned to school was "why does this happen?" Berkeley Township Elementary School Principal Kurt Burr said. "We kept it very simple. Bad people do bad things and we try and cut the conversation short."

Current protocols

Each school has monthly fire drills, lockdowns, shutdowns and is equipped with videocameras at the entrances.

Students are told not to hold the doors open for anyone, also known as "piggybacking" and to notify teachers or school officials if they see doors open or people on school grounds.

Some parents were concerned about numerous windows in the school. The Newtown shooter shot his way into the school, police have said.

"You can do all the lockdowns in the world," one parent said. "It's not going to prevent someone from getting in."

"We are on ground level," Roselli said. "There's only so much we can do. Our main goal is to provide safety on a daily basis. You are our stakeholders."

"What is the staff doing to identify kids with issues?" one woman asked.

"It's highly unlikely that someone that has issues slips through the cracks," Roselli said. "They generally identify themselves."

Right now, doors to all four schools are locked. Visitors must be buzzed in and identified by office staff. Three of the four elementary schools have "chambers," a secure area where they wait until they are identified and buzzed in. The Bayville Elementary School - the oldest in the district - does not.

But that will soon change, Roselli said.

"We are closely looking at Bayville Elementary School," he said.

The Berkeley Township Elementary School - the district's newest - is equipped with "Columbine doors." The doors have a very narrow slit for a window, which makes it virtually impossible for a shooter to fire at students, Roselli said.

Roselli said the Connecticut massacre would not fade with memory.

You are going to remember Newtown, Connecticut like you are always going to remember Columbine," Roselli said.

earsforward December 20, 2012 at 01:33 AM
Yes! the voice of reason. Maybe there is hope Mrs. Kriss-Dillane.
Sherry Kriss-Dillane December 20, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Chief Wahoo, Really, Sometimes I have no words. But what I would like to say, out of all of your posts that I have seen in many months. What are you so afraid of, come clean and use your real name. Do away with public schools? Home school? And it will then come out of your pocket to help support the people that have to quit work to do this ridiculous gesture. And to support all the people that just lost their jobs.. I think our schools are safer than many of our homes.
John Walton December 21, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Thanks for commending Dr. Roselli so many times, you seem to have a little thing for him. You're nose is a little brown SKD.
Megan Flynn-Sindoni December 22, 2012 at 08:30 PM
You must not have children in the school systems. I don't care what it costs to keep all of the children safe and secure.
Mary Ricciuti December 23, 2012 at 01:45 AM
I agree with having retired police officers present as a deterrant. they're already trained, fingerprinted, backround checked. Obviously we can't have just anyone off the street. They've already served the public, and often have there own kids/grandkids going to school in this town. Teachers weren't trained to be armed guards, they are there to teach. We can't just eliminate every window, or home-school every child. Let's be real, and come up with the most realistic choice! Unfortunately this is the wicked world we live in we can't just hide and live in fear from everything.

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