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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 19, 2012 at 06:05 AM
Perhaps Ms. Gross will pay for the full time armed security force required to guard our school system as she stated she cannot be concerned who will bear the cost.
Keeping whats mine December 19, 2012 at 10:24 AM
I say arm some staff. They can carry without "showing". This way its not known who or where, and may, i said may deter another horror. Just wishing for the best does not work.
donn wagner December 19, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Arming school staff is about the dumbest thing I ever heard. My 22 year old daughter is a new teacher, there is no way she would ever pull a trigger, making her the most dangerous gun carrier in the world. For the cost of 1 aircraft carrier we can hire 1 cop for every school. Pay for it with a $20 per gun annual license fee.
heather December 19, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Thank you Berkeley Township for working to protect our most precious future, our children. Whatever the cost, police in schools is an investment in our future and if it prevents just one child, teacher, or principal from being harmed, it is worth it. It just can't go away once we become complacent again, because we will, and someone will say that there hasn't been an attack so it is wasted money. The truth is we will never know how many events are deterred just because of police presence, but taking that presence away can't be allowed, not until we have a better plan in place, and for the foreseeable future i don't see one.
No name December 19, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Everyone there last night were speaking out of fear. Some suggestions and questions are not something anyone can control!! We need to have faith in the school district and believe Roselli and the 4 principals will do what they've been doing all along protecting while educating. If you can't support them then might I suggest home schooling!! I have 100% faith in Dr. Zito and his team at Potter!
Bayville Parent December 19, 2012 at 12:29 PM
I agree that the Bayvile school needs to be made safer. I can get buzzed into the school on any day and the office staff can not see me - they have no idea who I am, why I am there or if I am armed or not. Maybe the schools need a silent alarm button in the office, like banks, that goes to the police station.
sandy bottom December 19, 2012 at 12:55 PM
you must be a Senior
Laurie December 19, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I would GLADLY pay more in taxes to have my children be safe.
Sherry Kriss-Dillane December 19, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Being an involved parent at the kid’s functions as well as attending B.O.E. meeting etc. I see firsthand the safety that Dr. Roselli and our entire staff puts forth to see our children, their children safe. As the wife of a police officer, it takes hundreds of hours, training etc. to carry a firearm, you just can’t give someone one a gun and say “here you go” He has the shooting range, they have scenarios played out, it’s a lot involved. Unfortunately, evil people don’t need all that training to do something so unfathomable like this. No matter what we do from here on end, if someone wants to get into a dwelling be it a school your home etc., no matter what you do to protect your family, students etc. they will get in, that is their mission. They are hoping to deter them from getting in; in that amount of time the police will be there. Some people talked about a lot of things last night. But everyone is forgetting it takes money; money the school district, township and the state just doesn't have. I have to say being a parent of a 3rd child going through the school system; I had no reservations about sending my kids to school on Monday.
Sherry Kriss-Dillane December 19, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I know our school is safe, can there be changes, some add ons, some improvements yes and I have all faith in Dr. Roselli and the entire school system here in Berkeley Township. And I know Dr. Roselli and everyone else will do what it takes to keep the children even safer than they already are. Put faith in Dr. Roselli and everyone else. If you don't trust them then who can you trust? The bottom line is, it could happen anywhere, and they want to make sure it doesn’t happen here in Berkeley. I also wanted to commend Dr. Roselli and the entire Berkeley township school district, police dept. Mayor Carmen Amato for stepping up and getting right on this situation. Again, I am proud to be a part of such a wonderful and caring town!!
Lee Kissel December 19, 2012 at 02:40 PM
You cant stop it,dont kids play outside at recess?? Dont they walk to and from school buses outside, dont some kids walk home????What are you going to do,dress kids in armour plating ?? Think about it
Wayne December 19, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I propose a volunteer program involving retired police officers. There are hundreds of thousands of retired officers in this country. Initially local PD's do a background check on the first several volunteers from that point those volunteers do background checks on additional volunteers saving active police time. Two retirees per school per day. The retired officers would be used only as aperimeter security force and would not be used for duties other than that.( drugs thefts etc. would still be the responsibility of the local PD as well as DARE programs). Liability could be under the PD. as well as minor training and weapons qualifications. Retirees would use there own vehicles as they would change day to day to the advantage of low profile, however a record of there names and vehicles would be kept by the PD and school. The mere fact of knowing that an armed officer is at the schhol would be a deterent. Some might ask about the possibility of ex military, unfortunately I suspect that the liability cost might be greatly increased, not because of lack of skill but because the insurers would be less likely to accept retired military as opposed to retired police.
gene smith December 19, 2012 at 05:10 PM
The sad truth is no matter what safe guards are put in place, if someone is set out to kill people he/she is going to do it.. a police officer wouldn't stand a chance up against any rifle or shotgun. their vest are only capable of stopping handguns (and not even all the ammunition just most). Just like someone can run down 20 kids at a bus stop or set a school on fire, if they want to do it nobody will stop them before they do significant damage. Put more cops in schools? No, i think you go to the school staff and research who should be considered for speciailized training in firearms and crisis handling then offer it to them (maybe you give them a bonus every year they stay in the program?). That's probably the best move imo.. Pleanty of teachers are more than capable of learning how to defend themselves and their children. Between that, panic alarms in every hallway, ballistic glass installed in main corridors/doors, video surveillance linked to police dispatchers and police response (both on and off duty as most are local to their respective towns) should be more than enough to make us feel safe for school children. they can't live in a bubble..
LetsBeRealPeople December 19, 2012 at 06:41 PM
What we have to keep in mind is that there is no remedy to this. The goal is to make our schools "hard" targets with the hope that aggressors will gravitate toward "soft" targets. In other words, do whatever we can to make our schools as safe as possible realizing that there will always be security issues which will have to be addressed. If someone is intent on committing this type of crime, make them think twice about entering a school with an armed police officer in it. Hiring retired police officers is a positive step in the direction of creating a multi-phased security plan as they are trained, possess a wealth of experience and knowledge in this field, and have faced threats in the past and have learned how to deal with them. If there existed a perfect system, we would not have to discuss this and the victims from Newton would still be with us. Unfortunately this is not the case and we must continue to protect our children at all costs.
Chief Wahoo December 19, 2012 at 09:27 PM
what if the armed police officer decides to shoot children ??? what if someone beats up a teacher and takes their gun and shoots the children ? want to stop this....home school and do away with this public indoctrination cabal
Keeping whats mine December 19, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Maybe she could throw chalk and erasers at the attacker. Response times are too long Arm the staff that volunteer for training. Dumbo.
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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