Jan. 17--Gov. Deval Patrick has launched a state task force to develop safety protocols and procedures for Massachusetts schools, just two days after the latest school shooting, this time in New Mexico.
The task force, which will include representatives from education, public safety and health and social services, was created by executive order on Thursday and announced at a school in Revere. The task force is being asked to come up with a model safety and security plan that districts can adapt and implement.
"No child will be able to succeed academically if they don't first feel safe in school, and no teacher will be able to teach at their best if they aren't confident there's a plan in place to ensure their school is well-prepared for an emergency," Patrick said.
Decisions would remain at the local level, Secretary of Education Matthew Malone, one of three co-chairmen of the task force, said in an interview. "We want to make sure everyone knows about good practices."
Malone has firsthand experience with responding to a school shooting while he was a superintendent in Brockton. The school department was ill-prepared to deal with the aftermath, something he hopes this task force will help other districts avoid, he said.
Patrick's initiative was applauded Thursday by school and public safety officials on the Cape -- many of them already actively working to enhance safety and security in their own districts after last year's deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"If nothing else, it will get professionals from (education and public safety) together to open dialogue and talk about it," Chatham police Sgt. William Massey said.
Many districts on the Cape already have their own safety groups that include school and public safety officials.
"The idea is a good idea, no question about it. Every town and city in Massachusetts should be -- if they haven't already -- looking at this issue to ensure that they're satisfied that the safety of their children is in good hands," said state Rep. Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich. "It can happen here, that's the bottom line, and we have to be prepared."
All across the Cape, districts have either beefed up security with cameras or door buzzers, rewritten safety plans or implemented ALICE, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. The program trains students and staff to take steps to save lives rather than stay put in the corners of classrooms.
The state will look at a variety of safety and security protocols, including ALICE, calling on experts in the field, Malone said. Initially, at least, the state is unlikely to mandate any security requirements but instead will create what Malone called a "toolkit" of best practices.
"We're going to leave everything on the table," he said.
The task force hopes to have recommendations this summer for implementation beginning in the fall, Malone said.
"I think it's a great idea. I've researched other states -- Ohio and Pennsylvania -- and some of them are ahead of us in doing this and requiring certain things to be done," said Robert Griffin, coordinator of school safety for the Falmouth Public Schools.
Some Cape officials would like to see the task force go beyond just making recommendations to filing legislation. Several mentioned the need for a law requiring a certain number of lockdowns practiced per year, similar to the requirements for fire drills. A law would help battle what Barnstable police Sgt. Michael Damery calls the "ostrich mentality."
"There are some private schools in our town and elsewhere that are not going to train staff, train students or practice this stuff because it's unpleasant and a little frightening," Damery said, nothing that the town's public schools have been cooperative. "You can't rely on good luck. You have to rely on good training and good practice."
J.J. Burke, Sandwich's fire prevention officer who was part of a school safety group set up by Hunt when he was a selectman in 2006, said the task force is a good first step.