Town Hall tackles school security

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Parents and caregivers expressed a wide range of community concerns at the Mineola school security town hall conducted last Tuesday evening at Mineola Primary School. Twenty-two citizens addressed the board, while more than 60 local residents attended.

Board President John Abbott opened the session by proclaiming, “Tonight is your night,” and expressing the board’s desire to receive community input before taking further school security decisions. An hour and a half later, MISD Superintendent Kim Tunnell praised the involvement of those present and promised further such town hall sessions.

The emotional investment experienced in protecting children was evident throughout the evening, at times rendering those addressing the town hall to tears. In a respectful manner, attendees queried the board on numerous security related issues while the board briefed the gathering regarding the most recent security measures placed in force. Mineola Police Chief Chuck Bittner, Community Relations Officer Dusty Cook and Constable Kelly Smith supported Tunnell in addressing many of the issues.

Tunnell briefed the group on recent physical security improvements, violence prevention efforts and communications improvements. She discussed hosting last year’s active shooter training which has resulted in security drills and teacher training using the school’s own certified instructors.

The most recent state security audit called for a number of improvements such as installing an additional 45 security cameras, removing underbrush around school property, and fencing off the back parking lot to prevent open access to the school grounds.

Additional physical security measures include door locks in each classroom, moving the Nurse’s Office to the elementary school campus, and replacement of the old analog telephone system with a multi-functional digital system. All of the above measures are either completed or underway.

Violence prevention measures recently taken include employing a school counselor at each campus. Tunnell said one of her goals is to be “addressing the social and emotional needs of the students.” The issue of “bullying” featured prominently in later citizen comments.

Tunnell described the COPsync communications system which is the latest alert technology adopted by the school. It replaces the 911 network, and allows for an instantaneous alert of local police and security officers.

Questions from the gathered parents largely fell into one of four categories: present security procedures, arming teachers and related issues, physical security, and cyberbullying. The most recent security processes were described as establishing the school’s own police department and executing a Memorandum of Agreement with Mineola Police Department for mutual support.

The school’s latest procedures for dealing with an armed intruder is the “run, hide, fight” sequence. Issuing security alert can be accomplished through the new communications system.

The possibility of arming teachers spawned the most discussion. Attorney Carlo D’Angelo gave a short tutorial on potential school board and individual liability. D’Angelo argued “The policy must be reasonable and supported by data.” As an alternative to arming teachers, he suggested a matching funds type arrangement between the school district and the city to employ additional police officers for the school.

Constable Smith addressed possible training regimes for teachers stating, “Arming the teachers is not a small thing … they will be trained more than any police officer.” Smith stated he believed that the training regimen would be so onerous the armed teacher program would likely be short-lived.

Abbott clarified there is no timeline for instituting an armed teacher program, and vetting procedures for admission to the program would be locally prepared.

A brief discussion of logistics followed, as one mother in the audience admitted, “I have five kids and cannot hide one thing from them.” In response, Tunnell described how others schools employing an armed teacher program place a gun safe in each classroom. Inside the safe would be either a weapon or pepper spray.

Evan and Dorothy Hubbard offered good examples of the inputs received from the citizenry. Mr. Hubbard received the first applause of the evening when stating, “My biggest concern is the outside security of the school.” Mrs. Hubbard followed up by commenting, “Make the school a deterrent!” Physical security of the school grounds and the school buildings were touched upon by many of those who came forth to speak.

The problem of cyberbullying closed the town hall. In addition to describing the Stop It application and the Crime Stoppers program, Tunnell detailed the possible consequences of cyberbullying. Those consequences include counseling, referral to alternative campus, and referral to the police. She affirmed to the crowd that the school already monitors students’ social media.

Officer Cook and Chief Bittner both advised that increased interaction between police and students does have a positive influence in the efforts to curb cyberbullying.

Bittner added, regarding police presence at the schools, “It’s not budgeted for, we just do it.”

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