Safety of Moorestown Schools Examined After Sandy Hook Shooting
The board of educaton began the conversation Tuesday night about how to beef up safety and security within Moorestown's schools.
Moorestown’s schools are safe. But in light of the tragedy in Connecticut, district leaders are asking themselves whether they’re safe enough.
The board of education met with members of the Moorestown Police Department Tuesday night to discuss security suggestions, a meeting which Board President Don Mishler indicated would be the start of a long-term process to review and update the district’s safety protocols.
Though police told the board the district’s level of readiness was very high, Mishler said, “I’d be crazy to say it’s as safe as it can be, not knowing how safe it needs to be.”
Mishler discussed a few ideas, ranging from the installation of panic buttons to increased vigilance and the implementation of district-wide protocols for handling school visitors. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, some Moorestown parents have expressed concern over the process for allowing visitors into school buildings.
“We’re going to have to come up with consistent protocol throughout all our buildings on how we handle situations like that, situations where parents or vendors or whoever are coming to our schools,” Mishler said. “And a big part of the success of those plans is developing a culture that is more security conscious than we may be already.”
School culture changed dramatically after Columbine, and will likely change again—if not more dramatically—after Sandy Hook. Superintendent Brian Betze remembered being fixated on coverage of the shootings in Littleton, CO, in 1999 and striving to figure out, “‘How can I prevent that in my school?’ … We’ve changed. We’ve changed our culture. We’ve changed what we do. And we continue to do that and we continue to constantly improve those areas of security.”
And yet, in the 13 years since Columbine there have been 70 school shootings, including Sandy Hook, Betze said, explaining that the true answer to preventing such tragedies will come from outside the schools rather than within.
“Aside from armed guards and metal detectors, there’s not much more we can do … We’ve changed, but the problem still exists,” he said. “The larger issue is, our society, mental health issues, gun control issues—it comes down to the politicians changing things: funding for security, funding for mental health.”
He called on members of the community who have ideas or who want to help reach out to politicians in Trenton and Washington, DC, to contact him.
“It’s got to change, and I think we have the power to do those kinds of things—to change Trenton, to change Washington … so we don’t sit here again, trying to decide should we get more security cameras, and better IDs,” Betze said.
Teachers on "frontlines" express social media concerns
During the meeting, several teachers raised concerns about the district’s use of social media—i.e. Facebook and Twitter—to keep the community informed about what’s going on within the district.
Their concerns stemmed primarily from comments that appeared on the district’s Facebook page over the weekend questioning the safety of its schools. The comments were in response to a letter from Betze addressing the Sandy Hook tragedy.
South Valley Elementary School teacher B.J. Lemaire brought to the board’s attention a series of comments, which she felt were not only critical of the district, but “made South Valley vulnerable to individuals seeking to do harm.”
Lemaire quoted the comments: “‘Nobody ever asks for ID and signatures when we sign in (at South Valley) … I don’t feel like my kids are safe, anyone is buzzed in and the office staff hardly ever even looks up to acknowledge visitors … Definitely shaken after yesterday’s horrific event and I could totally see how it would be possible at South Valley.’”
Though some of the comments were removed, they remained up long enough for anyone reading the site to “‘like,’ read, print and consider” them, Lemaire said. She noted that the Moorestown Education Association (MEA) has asked repeatedly for commenting to be disabled on the district’s Facebook page—thus far to no avail, prompting the MEA to file a grievance.
“Our business does not belong in social media,” she said. “To continue with this feature is irresponsible. This is something we can change now.”
Betze, who said he has been monitoring the Facebook comments, had a different view than the MEA.
“I thought it was a good discussion to get ideas, to tell people we’re safe,” he said of the comments. “Though I understand where (the MEA) is coming from.”
Betze praised the dedication of the school staff, drawing parallels to some of the stories coming out of Connecticut about principal Dawn Hochsprung, who ran toward the shooter to try and stop him before the rampage began, and teacher Victoria Soto, who hid her students in a closet to protect them.
“Getting to know the Moorestown staff over the past four months, not one of you wouldn’t do the same exact thing,” Betze said.
Mishler said the school staff are on “the frontlines” of all the district’s security issues.
“I know that the people who work in those buildings work hard at this issue,” he said. “We just need to work harder.”
Get stories like this delivered to your inbox with our daily news digest. Sign up here.