BURRILLVILLE — A special risk assessment team formed in December to evaluate existing school safety measures and review ideas and proposals to improve school safety has completed a safety assessment for each of the district's five schools and will draft a report for review by municipal and school leaders.
The Risk Assessment Team was put into place two weeks after the Dec. 14 tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where a guman killed his mother before opening fire at the school, killing 20 children and six adults.
With its evaluation completed, the team will now compile a report for review by Town Manager and Public Safety Director Michael C. Wood as well as members of the School Committee and Town Council.
Risk Assessment Team members included School Supt. Frank Pallotta, Director of Technology Paul Barrette, Director of Facilities David Fontes and the five school principals, including high school Principal Michael Whaley, middle school Principal Dennis Kafalas, Austin T. Levy School Principal Janet Lyons, Steere Farm Elementary School Principal Cynthia Dunham and William L. Callahan School Principal David Brissette.
Also on the team were representatives of the police and fire departments and the town's emergency management office.
In a letter sent out to parents Jan. 30, Pallotta said that in addition to the school safety assessment, each school already has a school emergency plan mandated by state law, which requires 15 emergency drills. Of those 15 drills, he said, four must be obstructed; two must be on lockdown; and two must be an evacuation drill.
As part of the protocol for lockdown and evacuation drills, Pallotta said, police and fire personnel report to the school and conduct emergency procedures.
"If your child reports to you that police and fire officials were in school, please note that it was a drill," Pallotta says in his letter. "In the case of a real emergency, a protocol is in place to notify you."
Last month, Town Council President Nancy Binns informed her colleagues on the council of some of the revamped school safety measures and security protocols that are in place in the town's public schools.
Those measures include:
• Teachers in every classroom in every school now have updated phones to allow continual communication with the central office and principal's office during classroom lock downs.
• All doors and entryways at all school buildings are locked and secured.
• Teachers who are not actively teaching class are patrolling hallways.
• School liaisons at each of the schools are in constant communication with the police department.
• The police department has developed several protocols for immediate response and patrol officers are intermittently present in all of the schools on a daily basis.
It was just 10 months ago when the Town Council and School Department agreed to assign a beat officer to the schools when availability and manpower allows. That decision was made following calls for action by parents, teachers and members of the Burrillville Anti-Bullying Task Force, which urged the Council to consider reinstating a full-time school resource officer in the schools.
Town Councilman and Task Force Co-Chairman Edward J. Blanchard first broached the subject earlier last year, saying that the department's juvenile detective, while doing an admirable job, is not enough and that it was time once again to have a full-time, dedicated police officer in the schools throughout the school day.
The schools had been without a full-time school resource officer since 2009 due to cost-cutting measures. In October of 2001, the Burrillville Police Department received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund the hiring of one additional police officer for a three-year period. The officer was hired in March of 2002 and with that hiring, the police department assigned Patrolman David Beauchemin to the school resource officer position.
Beauchemin had an office in both the high school and the middle school.
However, in a cost-cutting measure due to the cutbacks imposed by the state, the town decided in 2009 to no longer provide the School Department with a school resource officer. The police department has also said in recent years that a lack of manpower prohibits the department from assigning a full-time officer.