Mass. schools deploy intercom access control solution

In an effort to ramp up security measures, Westboro schools have been outfitted with new buzzers and cameras at building entrances.

The front doors of all school buildings, which were previously left unlocked, are now locked at all times, except when students are entering and leaving the buildings at the start and end of the school day.

All faculty, staff, students, parents and visitors need to push a button outside to alert the front office staff to their presence. In a palm-sized video screen that sits on a desk, a member of the office staff can see who is at the door, talk to them through an intercom and push a button to let them in.

Superintendent Anne L. Towle said the system was installed last month and has been working smoothly.

Previously, all school visitors were required to sign in at the front office. That policy remains.

"You're asking people to report to the office, and 99 percent of people do," Ms. Towle said, adding that locking the doors and using cameras to track foot traffic should help ensure that all visitors check in.

Ms. Towle said anyone unknown to office staff would be asked to show an ID to the camera before entering school buildings.

The School Committee last June approved more than $27,000 to install the cameras, buzzers and intercom system.

Officer Charles "Chip" Dapolite, the school liaison officer, said police worked with the School Department on the new security measures.

"Having the buzzer isn't the answer," he said. "It's another tool that we have to assist with the security of the schools.

"It's working better than anticipated," he continued. "I've heard a lot of good feedback from the parents and the students."

School Committee Chairman Rod B. Jane called the new system smart and proactive, but said it is only the beginning of improved school security.

"It seems to be working very efficiently," he said. "There doesn't seem to be any dissatisfaction with this at all, which is surprising."

The School Committee has asked a safety committee - made up of School Committee members, teachers, nurses and others in the community - to study what other safety practices should be implemented in schools.

Mr. Jane said metal detectors and security cameras are among the measures under consideration.

"Everything that could potentially improve the safety of our schools is on the table," he said.

Joseph A. Federici, who works at Westboro High School sorting supplies, monitoring hallways and greeting visitors, now also is charged with buzzing people into the building.

"It's a start," he said. "It's not the best system."

Mr. Federici said he would rather have a system that allows students and teachers to enter the high school using electronic ID cards, a practice that is commonplace at many office buildings and universities.

"I think that's the next approach," he said. "That's the way of the future."

Up to 100 people buzz to enter the high school each day, according to Mr. Federici.