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School Security a Top Priority for Watertown Schools, Before and After Newtown

School officials designed plans to deal with a variety of situations, from medical emergencies to a school intruder.

 

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., school safety has become a big topic of discussion in schools around the country, and Watertown is no exception.

School Committee Chairwoman Eileeen Hsu-Balzer said, however, that this is nothing new in town, and the district's plan includes responses for a variety of situations from fires to medical emergencies to school intruders.

Watertown Middle School Assistant Principal Jason DelPorto, who heads the Critical Incident Team for the district, said the plan has many elements but has one primary focus.

"There is nothing more important than the safety and security of our students," DelPorto said. 

After the school shootings in Newton, Watertown schools reacted in a vareity of ways, DelPorto said. Each school handled it differently, and in a way appropriate for the age of the children.

"The middle school had a teddy bear drive," DelPorto said. "It was a huge success. We collected thousands of teddy bears and took them in a van to Newtown." 

Watertown's Plan

Details of the plan could not be discussed, DelPorto told the School Committee due to security reasons, but he said that it includes lockdowns, shelter in place and school evacuations.

"Shelter in place is to keep students from moving in the building, usually when there is a medical emergency and we want to protect a student's privacy," DelPorto said. "A lockdown is used when people are in the building, and we notify the Watertown Police Department."

Plans have also been developed to get students out the buildings.

"We evacuate the building when it is no longer safe — it could be for a wide range of reasons," DelPorto said. "We move them to a secondary site."

While the plan was developed in Watertown, having such contingencies is required by state law, DelPorto said.

Each year, the schools practice the various scenarios in the critical incident plan, DelPorto said. These drills are evaluated by the Watertown Police and Fire departments.

Sgt. George Demos, of the police's Community Division, said they examine each drill to look for places to improve — both the drill and the plan itself.

"We look at, this is how we could handle it better, and improve," Demos said. "The plan is very organic. It is always changing and adapting."

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