January 28 2016
Superintendent, School Committee Talk Safety in Wake of Anonymous Threat at BHS
By: Rich Hosford
Superintendent Eric Conti gave an update on school security during the School Committee meeting on Tuesday to address parents’ concerns after a situation in the school last week.
“We had a robotic bomb threat at the high school,” he said. “Something many schools in Massachusetts and even schools in other states experienced.”
On Tuesday, January 19 upwards of 15 schools received threats on Tuesday, many of them over the phone, including robo-calls. Burlington High School received a threat via Skype at approximately 12:15 p.m., prompting all afternoon activities to be cancelled and staff to be sent home. Students had already left the building due to the mid-year exam schedule.
Conti said all the schools have emergency protocols worked out in advance with the various emergency responders in town, in particular the police and fire departments. They have discussed different potential scenarios with the experts and have come up with plans and procedures detailing the best course of action during an emergency.
“The experts meet with each of our principals and they come up with protocols and then we drill those protocols,” he said. “We do this so if a situation arises it’s not school officials making decisions in a vacuum; we are following protocols made by our experts in this field. That helps us decide things like when to evacuate or when to keep students in place.”
Conti said the school department has also made facility changes to increase security, including changing the entrances to some of the buildings to ensure all visitors must go through the main entrance. They also installed intercom systems that connect to the police department to alert them during emergencies.
Also at the meeting was David Cullen, a Burlington resident who has been in the security business for over 30 years and has been working with the schools for the past seven years. He has helped develop the protocols for emergencies and has done evaluations of the school security in town.
Cullen said he is impressed with how the school department and the town tackle the issue of school safety.
“Burlington is a very unique town in how seriously they do take security, from police and fire chiefs to school administrators,” he said. “It’s truly a team effort.”
Cullen also stressed that though they might not talk about the plans and protocols in public so as not to undermine them, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes.
“We’ve held regular response team efforts,” he said. “We don’t reveal those plans to the public but rest assured they are talked about. They include everything from access, to policies, visitors, specific procedures, codes red and blue, emergency response, busing and where to put kids in an event of an emergency.”
Finally, Conti said another way the schools address security is by creating a healthy cultural environment in the buildings. He said students are encouraged to participate in sports and extracurricular activities to get them to feel included and to form friendships.
“We have to take precautions and prepare for threats from the outside but we also have to have a healthy culture in the school,” he said.