Stratford officials have increased police presence in Stratford’s schools and updated school facilities in an attempt to bolster security in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings last month.
According to Chief of Staff Marc Dillon, Mayor John A. Harkins has convened a school security task force consisting of the mayor, Chairman of the Board of Education Gavin Forrester III, interim Superintendent of Schools Margaret Lasek, Emergency Management Director Anthony Schirillo, Fire Chief Robert McGrath, Fire Marshal Brian Lampart, Police Chief Patrick Ridenhour, Deputy Chief Joseph McNeil, Public Works Director Maurice McCarthy, EMS Director Phil Onofrio, and other staff key staff members.
“It’s been a very busy and productive time here in Stratford,” said Mayor Harkins, who has joined Lasek and Chief Ridenhour at numerous local school safety forums since the Dec. 14 shooting.
According to Dillon, the Board of Education and central office administration organized the forums to explain school security measures that are already in place, outline new measures being implemented, and address questions and concerns from parents.
“Our goal is to ensure that Stratford students receive the best education possible in a safe and secure learning environment,” Harkins said. “Every option is on the table right now — every suggestion is being heard and carefully considered.”
According to Dillon, every school has conducted safety committee meetings. Entry procedures have been revised and tightened. Emergency drills have been conducted throughout the district, and police have increased their presence at all schools.
With the assistance of public works personnel, Dillon said, physical enhancements have also been made at school facilities.
Dillon said the task force is considering the installation of so-called “panic buttons” to link schools with the Police Department and that plans for increased video monitoring as well as hiring additional security guards are under serious discussion.
Since accepting the position of interim superintendent, Lasek has consistently identified “the safety and security of our students and staff as the No. 1 priority in our district.”
Lasek noted that the school district is being served by an upgraded emergency notification system, which was installed after the Newtown tragedy. By early or mid-February, Lasek said, the system will be ready for both district and school-specific use.
“Our emergency alert system will facilitate the updating of our parents’ emergency contact information while enhancing the reach and speed of our emergency communications,” said Forrester.
“While this is just one tool, the community can be assured that we are taking every step possible to protect Stratford’s 7,320 students and 842 employees — which includes teachers, certified instructional assistants, nurses, office staff, and custodians,” Forrester said.
According to Dillon, the mayor’s task force will augment and add resources to the school and district safety committees, which were already in place.
Chief Ridenhour pointed to the vigilance of a Stratford resident on Jan. 8 for alerting police to four men with firearms entering the woods near Wooster School.
“Our officers were at the scene within two minutes and resolved the situation without incident,” Ridenhour said, referring to the apprehension and arrest of four men who were shooting pellet guns in the woods.
The chief reminded residents that it is illegal in the town of Stratford to possess or use such pellet guns. It is also illegal to store, sell or offer such weapons. “We take this law very seriously,” Ridenhour said, “particularly in light of recent events.”
Harkins noted that “while the primary impact of the Newtown shooting of course was suffered by the school staff and families there, that horrific event will cause lasting changes in communities across the country. We are all completely committed to making any and every adjustment that will keep our children and our community safe.”