WESTFIELD, NJ — Should all of Westfield’s schools have professional security guards? How is security handled at school events? Is there a better way to communicate with parents during a lockdown?
These were some of the questions brought to officials at Tuesday night’s school board meeting after last week’s arrest of a man armed with a handgun and hollow point bullets in Tamaques Elementary School's parking lot.
School Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan said Tuesday that doors at each of Westfield’s 10 public schools will remain locked beyond school hours through the end of the school year, which is this Friday, as they conduct a comprehensive review.
“Westfield Police Chief [Chris] Battiloro will provide an ongoing police presence in and around our schools all week, along with enhanced security at our middle and high school graduations,” Dolan said.
Errol Brudner of StoneGate Associates, the security firm hired by the Westfield school district, was on hand to answer questions.
“We work very closely with StoneGate,” Business Administrator Dana Sullivan said. “I would say that the last school year they went to every single building and did a comprehensive review of every single building and made recommendations.”
Westfield has done much more than any other school district he has worked with, and is one of the top two or three districts that StoneGate has seen, Brudner told concerned parents and the school board.
Westfield Public Schools have three school resource officers, but does not have armed guards stationed at the doors.
“All the staff who are vetting people at doors have trained on what to look for,” Brudner said. Someone wearing a coat that could conceal things or carrying a bag would be delayed at the door and asked further questions before they were allowed in, he said for example.
Some of the other security measures in place, Sullivan said, include shatterproof film on all windows to the outside of the schools and gates that lock off areas of the building each night as well as alarms set in buildings every night.
StoneGate also visits the district at least once a month and trains staff at every school as well as administrators, Sullivan said.
Parents questioned the security at events, such as last week’s kindergarten graduation, when doors were open to anyone.
Most schools are not truly prepared for event management, Brudner said.
“It’s always been a concern, but it hasn’t really come to the forefront because we haven’t seen those incidents occur on after-school-type events or football games or basketball games, ” he said. “It’s something we’ll be recommending, we’ll be adding to the report. We’re meeting with the police, fire company. It’s a partnership on community events that occur after school that it’s a shared responsibility.”
He emphasized the role of the community.
“I want to make this point clear — it’s everybody’s responsibility,” Brudner said. “Behaviors can only be recognized if we’re all engaged in paying attention, so those people who are not acting properly either entering a school, during an event or outside on the playground, and that notice of somebody not acting properly, immediately calling the police and immediately alerting others to lock down and shelter in place and run away and hide is really critical to all our safety.”
Brudner said there is comfort in how well things did work last Thursday.
“That Delaware Police immediately contacted Westfield Police,” he said. “The response from Westfield Police was appropriate, quick and effective. That they neutralized the threat immediately, rendering everything safe, and they went above and beyond, making sure there were no devices, that there’s no people or anything else around.”
Although parents were alerted about the lockdown by email, one parent also suggested that alerts go out via text, as some people do not have access to personal email at work.
Superintendent Dolan thanked parents for their suggestions over the past several days and spoke about the importance of after-school activities in childrens’ development.
“How do you balance that — having that access and making sure everyone is safe? I think that’s one of the things that this recent incident has really pointed out,” Dolan said.
Meanwhile, at the Town Council session Tuesday, Glen Johnson, a resident of Crescent Parkway, noted that his wife was in the school’s parking lot during the incident last week.
“We’ve all seen the news. We’ve seen Parkland. We’ve seen Newtown,” Johnson said referring to school shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Police Chief Chris Battiloro said that he defers to the school district in school security matters, but also offers input.
“The implementation the development and execution of the school security plan rests solely with the schools,” Battiloro said. “We offer any input asked of us.”
Battiloro noted that local police frequently patrol school grounds.
“The exterior of school grounds are patrolled 24 hours a day,” Battiloro said. “Those types of checks are documented.”
Later, residents – most of whom turned out to witness the Town Council’s approval of a seasonal ice rink at Gumbert Park – stood and clapped after Battiloro briefed council members on the police response to the man arrested outside of the school.
“The Westfield Police Department is working hard to bring this matter to a successful conclusion and to ensure that this subject remains where he is in jail right now,” Battiloro said.