MADISON, NJ – Concerned parents gathered at Madison High School Tuesday evening, Feb. 5, to hear from Homeland Security Officer Alfonse Imperiale regarding school safety.
The former police officer showed a video that started as far back as 1927 in Bath, Michigan, when a school was bombed, killing 38 students and two teachers. Scenes from the 1999 Columbine shooting in Littleton, Colorado were also displayed.
“This isn’t Hollywood,” Imperiale said. “These are real people with real emotions. There was mass chaos.” Other examples included:
Sept. 1, 2004, in Russia, 1,200 children and 32 adults were held hostage in a school, where 50 died. In Lancaster County, Penn., Charles Carl Roberts entered a school that had no security, killing five girls and himself.
Imperiale explained that schools are generally community-minded, rather than security-minded. Superintendent Michael Rossi agreed, saying the school buildings are available for adult education and other organizations after school hours. Many schools are laid out in a campus style, with open windows, no screens or bars.
One parent asked about the security at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn.
“That was a very unusual circumstance,” Imperiale said. “He shot his way into a locked down school. Cameras were in place, the school had all the right precautions. But there was no stopping him.”
He explained that usually someone will take the path of least resistance, but in this case, “The individual was driven. No one knows why.” Even bullet-proof doors aren’t the answer, he said, because of the expense. And if someone is determined, that person will find another way.
Imperiale said that he would submit a report in March to the superintendent, but it is confidential and would be limited to internal discourse. He said it takes him three to four hours to go through each building, assessing precautions and making suggestions. He met with fire department officials as well as Madison police.
One parent asked what information could be shared so that parents can talk to their children about lock downs and other security measures. “Limited communication leads to speculation,” she said. Rossi said he would be able to share some general information.
“It’s a matter of balance,” Rossi said. “”We don’t want students to fear or freak out, but they need to take these matters seriously.”
Discussion centered on an incident last week, when the Madison Police received a call from Morristown about an armed and dangerous person who was in the area. He had been in custody for aggravated assault.
“We took precautionary measures,” Rossi said, “and felt a limited lockdown was called for. I was overly conservative and cautious, but the person was not on campus.” Rossi said he tried as much as possible to continue the educational process.
Questions came up about ADA compliance, when doors stay open longer for handicap access. Parents also asked about police presence at the schools, possibly hiring retired police. Funding would be an issue, Rossi said, either through grants or a special question on a ballot.
One person asked about strangers entering a school, possibly following someone else in. “Most people have been trained to be courteous, but it’s up to the individual to ask questions,” Imperiale said. “Security starts here and it starts with you, as well.”