Police officers will be stationed at each school this week at drop-off and dismissal times and a phone call to the main office will be required of anyone wishing to enter a school building.
Those are some of the immediate changes the school district is making in response to Friday's school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Supt. of Schools Fran Rabinowitz, joined by Police Chief Thomas Wydra and Mayor Scott Jackson, addressed a packed cafeteria at Hamden Middle School Sunday aftrnoon on school security and concerns parents have as their children head back to school for the first time since the shootings Friday.
"I come before you as the Superintendent of Schools but more importantly as a mother and a grandmother," Rabinowitz said. "I think the feeling among all of us is to do something, and the best thing is to come together and talk about how best to work with our own children.
"I don't know if anyone can be well trained to move students though such an unspeakable tragedy," she said. "What should we be talking to students about, what we need to know about to provide the safest environment we know how to provide."
"We all know how intense the media coverage will be in the days ahead," said Kim Planis, the district's director of special education. "It's so important to be honest with your children, but simple is best."
Limiting the amount of television coverage children watch is important, especially for younger children, she said, as is allowing them to express their feelings, whether through words, writing, or however is comfortable for them.
It's also important to maintain routines, she said -- bedtime, dinner time routines and other activities.
And most of all, parents need to take care of themselves so they are capable of taking care of their children, she said.
"We are a community, we will work through this and we will work together to reassure your kids," she said.
"Be honest with your child that this is incredibly difficult for you as well, but let them know we are adults and will do everything we can to keep them safe," Rabinowitz said. "We can't ever say that a tragedy like this will never happen again, but we can say that we will work around the clock to keep them safe."
The district has had a school safety plan in place for years, she said, that is constantly updated with help from the Hamden Police Department
"I can tell you we will now be even more vigilant," she said. Beginning this week, no one will be allowed in a school building without having made arraingement to be there a head of time, she said. "You will have to make a phone call first -- even if it's a call from you cell phone when you're in the parking lot."
She herself had gotten complacent, Rabinowitz said. When entering a school building with her card key, if a parent were coming in behind her, she's let them pass through with her without being buzzed in.
No more, Rabinowitz said. "I won't be doing that anymore," she said. "They will have had to call."
And once in the school, all visitors must report directly to the main office before heading on to their destination, she said -- no more going straight to a classroom or the nurses office.
Hamden Middle School principal Dan Levy has work extensively on the security plans. He said there are three main characteristics they must have:
- they have to have an expliit plan
- have to limit access to the buildings
- have to work very closely with the Police Department
"Our plan does all three," he said, and not only do they work with the Police Department but also with the Fire Department and other emergency services.
Even before this happened, he had worked on the plan throughout the year with the most recent update finished in August, he said.
Wydra said there is already a uniformed officer stationed at Hamden High School and Hamden Middle School everyday. "It allows us to have someone in a position to deal with an active shooter immediately," he said.
This week, officers will be stations at the elementary schools during pickup and drop off times, he said. "We are not giving away any other strategy beyond that," Wydra said.
Mayor Scott Jackson said he has complete confidence in the district's abiity to keep students, including his son Max, a first-grader at Ridge Hill School, safe.
"Max is going to be at Ridge Hil School tomorrow morning at 8:30," he said.