Students, Parents Voice School Security Concerns

Sally E. Bahner PhotoLocal school district and state policy require that fire drills be held at least once each month in each school building and reported to the superintendent’s office. Fire drill procedure is to be used in case of a bomb threat. All students, teachers, and employees are required to leave the building.

But fire drills are not a part of life in the Branford school district.

Sally E. Bahner PhotoThat was one takeaway from a recent Board of Education meeting where the BOE and Schools Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez listened to comments about the effect of Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on families and students.

Nor do parents feel or believe that school district officials are openly communicating with them about safety and other issues. That became clear in their comments to the full board. (See top photo)

The BOE meeting was held at Branford High School, attended by a room full of concerned parents and bridged on concerns from a Communications Committee meeting held Feb. 21.

Sally E. Bahner PhotoCelica Toche (pictured) of Branford Families lamented the lack of family engagement. “There’s little that engages families in decision making,” she said. She said there have been few safety drills and it’s not clear about reunion points and where to pick up kids. “The board needs to work with police, fire department, and families,” she added. “There needs to be family engagement, family decision making.”

Nancy Kendrick, a parent, addressed the issue of fire drills and said she had submitted the statutes to BOE chair Michael Krause and Schools Superintendent Hamlet Hernandez, encouraging an open discussion about them and other security concerns at a communications committee meeting planned for this Wednesday, March 14, at 6 p.m., at the high school.

Sloane Maymon, parent of a fifth grader, said the general vibe at Walsh Intermediate School is that the school is not adequately equipped with the layout of the building being the biggest concern. She said there’s concern among the staff and community about what to do in case of emergency, that there’s been no drill at Walsh. She added that her daughter has been very affected and her concerns were brought to the fifth grade guidance counselor who was very helpful in helping her daughter “navigate her emotions.” Maymon acknowledged that the support system has been “exceptional.”

Hamlet Hernandez, the district’s superintendent, tends to rely on privacy arguments when it comes to discussing students, even if the issue centers on policy, as in school programs to combat bullying. His top officials follow suit. So it did not surprise parents that he was not openly communicating with them about safety policy.

The school district's top officials, along with two Branford teachers,

were recently sued for negligence after a fifth grade teacher encouraged students in his class to end their friendships with a mentally challenged 11-year-old boy, saying the boy was a “troubled individual to be avoided.”

Hernandez said that he writes down all the public comments and that “they’re not taken lightly.” Regarding security, he said, “The safety of our students is paramount… I think we can do a better job explaining what we have in place,” he conceded.

Students Speak About Fear

Sally E. Bahner PhotoGianCarlo Giannini (pictured), the board’s student representative, said there was “general fear” at the high school the day after the shooting. He said many kids were scared to come to school – many did not come the next day. “There’s a lockdown drill tomorrow and I feel that we’re still not prepared and addressing everything.” He said there are kids who sit in the senior balcony who are scared and that the plan that has been established is for them to move down and into the auditorium; they feel that’s it’s not safe, that it’s a risk to their safety. “Everyone is scared,” he told the board, two weeks after the Parkland, Florida shooting took place.

Sally E. Bahner PhotoMelanie Sacks (pictured), a student, talked about how students felt after the shooting. She said a lot of students were scared to come to school. Some teachers talked about what they would do, she said, others brushed it off.  She added that one teacher spent two class periods asking kids what they thought, discussing personal safety and what they would do, such as planning to moving a file cabinet near the door so it could be blocked.

A letter had been sent to parents prior to the meeting to encourage their input.

In addition, BOE chair Michael Krause announced that the March 14 Communications Committee meeting will be extended from a half hour to a full hour to hear additional concerns.

Tashie Rosen Honored

Sally E. Bahner PhotoThe board honored the late Tashie Rosen, chief financial officer, with a proclamation and memorial plaque given to her family, which included her husband, sons, and parents. She died in July 2016. Krause said her dedication extended beyond the school system, describing her as “kind and humble of heart.”

Board 101

Sally E. Bahner PhotoThe board heard a presentation by Rebecca Adams, senior staff attorney for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, describing the legal and ethical responsibilities of a board of education. It’s a “creature” of state statutes as well as municipal. She described the superintendent as the CEO, who serves as the chief executive officer of the board. The superintendent, she said, has executive authority over the school system and the responsibility for its supervision, according to statute. He reports to the board. 

The responsibilities of the board, she said, include policy development and implementation, adoption of an annual budget, and hiring the superintendent. Only the board can handle policy, she said, adopt it and make changes. She stressed that staffing concerns are handled through the superintendent rather than the board.

Kristin DeFrancesco, who has a daughter at Walsh, said her concern is not knowing what the action might be resulting from comments at meetings…. “You’re [the board] not allowed to say anything. Do you leave here and talk about it?” she asked. “What happens to the comments and concerns of the public?” 

“From best practices, they take in all you say… the board has to get its business done,” said Adams. “They do get referred to the appropriate person…” She added that there will be a lot of discussions about school safety.

Krause said that those concerns were part of the reasons the Communications Committee meeting is being extended. He said those meetings are more of an exchange between the public and the board, adding a regular meeting is to “soak the information in” then refer it to a committee for discussion.

Adams said that it was a “balancing act” under the Freedom of Information Act about too much information getting out and getting into the wrong hands. She did not explain her fears or give any examples of FOI abuse by a parent or another resident. 

DeFrancesco, who had had an earlier conversation with Hernandez, said that it was frustrating not knowing what provisions for releasing information to parents and the public are in place. “I understand the reason behind it,” she said, “But I wonder if there were other things that wouldn’t be so dangerous to be let out so we feel better sending our kids to school each day.”

Hernandez responded that he’s trying to get ahead of things. “I will probably not get that 100 percent right… but I will try… it’s not a job done by one person. It’s done collectively.”

He added, “It’s unsettling to hear that students don’t feel safe.”


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posted by: redman on March 12, 2018  1:23pm

The parents might as well be in the forest shouting among the trees. There is no one listening. How much would shatter proof glass cost? How about classroom doors that can be closed with a metal bar? Hernandez should be fired.