Rochester schools considering more security

Tresa Zumsteg, Ph. D.

In the wake of last week’s mass killing in a Connecticut elementary school, Rochester Community Schools is discussing adding a new security system to control building access.

At Monday’s board of education meeting, interim superintendent Tresa Zumsteg said the district’s crisis team had met that morning to discuss what the district is doing well and what could be improved.

“The one thing people felt strongly about is they do want to have our entrances where they relock after students come into the building,” she said. She added that the crisis team has a plan in place through December, and that the Oakland Intermediate School District already has approved an electronic access system. A formal request to purchase the system is expected at a future meeting.

Zumsteg said the community, from parents to staff and police, responded to Friday’s events in Connecticut. She said the sheriff’s office has come up with a program called Adopt a School, where deputies on patrol will stop by schools on their beat “to see how it’s going.” Principals met with their building staff early Monday, and volunteers were at some schools to welcome students.

All “are taking this such to heart,” Zumsteg said. “They feel responsible for the children that come into the building. I just can’t tell you how proud and happy I am to be able to work with this group of people. … In really bad times, you see the best in people.”

Zumsteg acknowledged that an electronic access system wouldn’t have stopped the Connecticut shooter. “But we also understand that the more we put barriers, the more we can protect and try to save lives.”

The board of education began its meeting by offering a moment of silence for the victims of Friday’s shooting. “May they take comfort in knowing that people around the world are sharing in their grief,” board president Jennifer Berwick said.

The board also reacted to a flurry of education-related bills taken up by the state legislature in the waning days of the legislative session, unanimously approving a resolution in support of public education.

“The board feels very strongly that we need to send a message to Lansing,” Berwick said.

The resolution indicates that the board “is concerned that the quality, breadth and depth of education of all students will be negatively impacted by the unchecked growth of non-profit and for-profit charter and cyber schools” and that “alternative education models should be developed in partnership with traditional public schools.”

The resolution asks that “traditional public schools be given the same level of flexibility in reporting as alternative education models, or that alternative education models be subject to the same levels of data collection, reporting to the state and degrees of transparency as traditional public schools.” It concludes by asking that proposed legislation “be given thorough study, be subjected to close, careful public scrutiny and comment” before being enacted.

“I am in full support of this resolution, and particularly today,” said trustee Beth Talbert. “Our staff is exhausted, and they’re exhausted by not just what’s happened over the weekend (but) … a barrage from Lansing.”

“Educators are not valued in our state,” she continued. The resolution “is letting our staff know that we value them … and fully value the role of public education in a democracy.”

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