By SCOTT JACKSON
Parents had the opportunity to learn first-hand about security procedures at Quincy Public Schools from school administrators and the city’s police chief Monday night.
About 75 people attended the presentation, which was followed by a question-and-answer session. The Citywide PTO hosted the 90-minute event at Broad Meadows Middle School.
School Superintendent Dr. Richard DeCristofaro, school security director Michael Draicchio, student support services director Maura Papile and Police Chief Paul Keenan all spoke at Monday’s event. DeCristofaro said everything else the school system does – from MCAS preparation to curriculum – pales in comparison to making sure students are safe.
“Nothing – nothing – compares to the safety of your children and our children in the Quincy Public Schools and everywhere else that they go,” he said. “We know our job and we try very, very hard.”
Monday’s meeting came less than two months after a former student killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.
Keenan said his department has changed its response to a potential active-shooter situation following the Parkland shooting. Previously, he said police would wait until three or four officers were on scene to enter a building – those officers would make a diamond formation and attempt to neutralize the shooter. Now, officers are being trained to enter the building alone to attempt to neutralize the shooter while providing information over the radio to other officers en route to the scene.
“After Columbine the thought was wait for the SWAT team to get there, everybody form up and everybody go in and neutralize the threat,” Keenan said, “Now we’ve learned from lessons learned that the single-officer approach is probably the best way to do it.”
The department also has a 22-member SWAT team, the chief said, plus hostage negotiators and eight canines trained to sniff out explosives.
Keenan said the department continually does school-response training drills at the former Quincy Medical Center.
“It’s a great training facility for us because we can do no damage, we can do no wrong in there, so we can really train very well on containing any threat and it is designed a lot like a school – there are long hallways, there are all kinds of nooks and crannies in there,” he said. “We’re up there at least twice a month training.”
Draicchio gave an overview of security initiatives the school system undertook after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 26 students and staff members were killed.
In the aftermath of that shooting, new locks were installed on all classroom doors throughout Quincy Public Schools. Access control systems were also installed on schools’ exterior doors, allowing them to stay locked throughout the day while still giving staff access to the building. New video intercoms were installed on entrances as well.
“We were very, very fortunate to be able to get the money appropriated from the mayor and the City Council at the time, work with the School Committee and work with the superintendent to make sure we were doing all the right things we needed to do for our schools,” Draicchio said.
The school system regularly drills for lockdowns and evacuations as well as reverse evacuations – getting all students and staff back inside at recess or before or after school – at all buildings, Draicchio said. The Quincy Fire and Police Departments take part in those drills, along with Brewster Ambulance.
School officials, Draicchio said, meet regularly with the city’s first responders, the Norfolk County District Attorney and Sheriff’s Offices, and MBTA Transit Police to discuss safety and security. Draicchio also publishes a newsletter on safety and security three times a year for all teachers and staff, plus a weekly security memo that is distributed to principals and security officers.
Papile said the district aims to teach students compassion and empathy starting in the elementary schools. She also highlighted several programs available to students in need of mental health assistance, including counseling services and alternative programs.
“Helping kids fit, helping kids succeed, helping kids belong, meeting those developmental and social and emotional needs, keeping them connected – all those things are good prevention,” Papile said.
Additionally, Papile said the school system has crisis teams ready to go to help teachers communicate with students if necessary. The crisis teams help to ensure the teachers provide age-appropriate messages to their students.
Some of those in attendance who spoke during the question-and-answer period felt more needs to be done to improve security in the schools.
Hank Dondero, one of those who spoke, said more needs to be done to harden the city’s older school buildings.
“My feeling is there should be a lot more done proactively hardening schools,” he said.
Dondero also asked the officials if Quincy would consider the ALICE protocol for its public schools. ALICE – which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate – is a protocol offered by a private company that aims to provide an alternative to locking down buildings.
Keenan said there is no empirical data or case study available that indicate ALICE is more effective than a lockdown, and was critical of the idea of having a student attempt to counter an attacker.
“In my opinion, putting a child in harm’s way trying to fight back against an intruder or somebody who is armed is just not a good way to go,” Keenan said.
Rebecca Fuller, a Sharon teacher and parent of two Quincy students, said Sharon has adopted the ALICE protocol. She said counter doesn’t mean the students fight back against the attacker – it could mean barricading a classroom’s doors – and said the protocol lets teachers decide if it is safe to evacuate a building.
“It gives the teacher the opportunity to make a call about what is best in that situation,” Fuller said.
Keenan agreed that barricading doors can be effective but said evacuating students could put them in harm’s way because it is not always clear where the perpetrator is, or how many perpetrators there are.
“It’s complete chaos,” he said. “When you evacuate your children you may be putting them into harm’s way. You don’t know where the threat is coming from because it is not always a one-person threat.”