Schools 'Scrutinizing People More' in Wake of CT Massacre
Gloucester Township and Black Horse Pike Regional schools take steps to prevent tragedy.
In the minutes, hours and days following the cold-blooded murders of 20 young students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, communities across the nation pondered ways to prevent a similar school massacre in their town.
Gloucester Township is no different.
"Everybody had a very terrible, rude awakening again to how schools are soft targets," Gloucester Township Public Schools (GTPS) interim Superintendent John Bilodeau said on Tuesday.
And that means you better have a legitimate, verifiable reason to go into a school.
On Sunday, Mayor David Mayer sent out a letter via the township's Global Connect community alert system assuring residents of the police department and schools' "collective commitment to ensuring the safety of our students, teachers and parents at every school in our community."
Bilodeau followed suit, posting a letter to the local school district's website this week reminding residents that police have been "actively involved in specific safety drills" at township schools for several years now.
Across the nation, debate rages over the renewed push for stronger gun-control laws, particularly for an assault weapons ban.
To a lesser extent, people are discussing shortfalls in mental health care and the culture of violence that permeates pop culture.
In Gloucester Township, municipal, police and school officials discussed and began planning over the weekend a meeting to be held in January to go over school security and potential enhancements.
The Black Horse Pike Regional School District (BHPRSD) website includes a note stressing district officials intend to "continue to evaluate our school safety and security procedures."
Bilodeau expects lessons will be learned from what happened in Connecticut last week, bringing about safety improvements—possibly including physical changes to school buildings.
While potential changes to gun-control laws and school infrastructure would not happen for months, if not years, security measures have already been tweaked in and around GTPS and BHPRSD schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
For instance, school employees are more closely monitoring visitors to school buildings. All GTPS and BHPRSD buildings have video surveillance systems to view and record visitors, who must be buzzed in.
"Of course, everyone's senses are heightened with what's happened," BHPRSD Superintendent John Golden said Tuesday. "They're scrutinizing people more so than before."
Also, Gloucester Township Police Chief W. Harry Earle has directed increased patrols to schools.
The three BHPRSD high schools each already have an armed police officer assigned to them full-time. Timber Creek and Highland have Gloucester Township police officers, Triton a Runnemede police officer.
The 11 GTPS buildings do not have police officers in them at all times.
That could change in the future. While neither could commit to such an idea at this time, Bilodeau and Earle both acknowledged the conversation has taken place.
"Over the weekend, Chief Earle and I were brainstorming various things, and that was one of the things he brought up," Bilodeau said.
Earle did note Gloucester Township Police Department does currently have two full-time DARE officers who work in the 11 GTPS school buildings, as well as Erial Christian School and other private schools, year-round.