Moorestown schools to tighten security

Posted: April 20, 2013

Rare is the student who doesn't leave his sneakers or her lunch at home sometimes, but the days when Mom or Dad could deliver a sandwich or gym bag (and a quick hug) at school are over in Moorestown.

After a recent security audit discovered that dozens of well-intended adults were passing through school doors each day, the Moorestown district is blowing the whistle. Parents may no longer enter schools on minor errands.

"Times have changed" since last year's horrific shootings at a Connecticut elementary school, Superintendent Brian J. Betze told parents and guardians in a letter they received this week. "Securing our buildings is of paramount importance.

"Throughout the day, we open our school doors too often for parent drop-offs of articles such as books, sneakers, and lunches," Betze continued. He asked that they "refrain from coming to school" to drop such items off.

Also, adults having lunch in the cafeteria with their children will "no longer be supported," Betze wrote.

Even parent meetings with staff will be more structured. All appointments will be scheduled in advance and verified on arrival, and parents will need to check in at the office to receive visitor passes.

The new security measures - and others still contemplated - spring from the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 26 children and adults dead, Betze said.

"We had been hearing from principals that our procedures had to be tightened," said Betze. "So we had an outside firm come in."

Auditors discovered that parents were dropping off as many as 75 items a day at Moorestown's six school buildings. The district has four elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school.

The volume of visitors had the potential to "distract office staff," the security firm concluded, recommending that access be sharply curtailed.

How strictly the district can implement a limited-access policy remains to be seen. "We have to use common sense," said Betze.

"We're not going to make Billy run in his socks if he forgets his sneakers, or penalize a student who forgets her notebook. But we're trying to create a new culture, and that's hard to do."

The district is looking at creating secure vestibules where parents can drop off that frantically needed inhaler or copy of Hamlet without entering the school's interior, he said.

It also wants to install more security cameras, said Betze, but the cost of those and the vestibules and other measures may require taxpayer approval.

"For now, because it's near the end of the school year," he said, "we're just trying to impress on everybody the importance of remembering things and not coming by school unnecessarily."

During the summer, school board members and senior staff will come up with a more detailed set of plans, he said.

Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators, said his organization was unaware of any district undertaking massive security precautions in the wake of Sandy Hook.

"New Jersey was already pretty ahead of the curve" in regard to school security, said Bozza.

State law requires all schools to undertake periodic drills in response to a variety of possible scenarios, including lockdowns in the event of an armed intruder.

"But we don't want schools to become vaults," said Bozza. "The challenge is to keep a balance between security and freedom, and it's difficult."

Locked doors and limited access to hallways is "basic," he said.

Sharon Vitella, assistant superintendent for curriculum in the Mount Laurel School District, said that it, too, had been looking at adding security cameras and ways to lock classrooms from the inside.

"These will be implemented as our budget allows," said Vitella, who added that the district had not yet considered restricting school access to parents.

"We have a lot of volunteers" coming into the schools, "and they serve a valuable purpose," she said. "I understand that Moorestown and everybody is trying to find a balance between being welcoming vs. security.

"It's a hard line to walk."


Contact David O'Reilly at 856-779-3841 or doreilly@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @doreillyinq.

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