North Adams School Committee Endorses Gun Statement
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Tuesday took a stand on school safety — and for gun control.
The committee voted 5-2 to endorse a statement penned by fellow member John Hockridge that is the basis for the Massachusetts Association of School Committees' position on guns and school security.
Hockridge, representing District VI on the MASC board, said the two-part statement would encourage Congress to address gun-control legislation and would reject National Rifle Association's Wayne Lapierre's call for armed guards and volunteers in schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
"I don't believe that adding more guns and more armed guards to the schools is the best strategy for making the schools safer," he said. "In fact, I think it would do just the opposite."
That may not be true for all school districts, he said, hence the wording that North Adams did not believe "it is the most effective strategy for protecting our children."
Rather, the school district's emergency policies, proposals to secure entrances and a community police officer were more effective, said Hockridge.
Committee member Mary Lou Accetta expressed concern that the statement seemed to reject other school committees' decisions to possibly use guards and failed to distinguish a difference between "armed security personnel" and trained police officers.
Member Mark Moulton had difficulties with what the term "military-assault weapons" meant and he and Lawrence Taft both wondered why the NRA had to be mentioned at all. Moulton said he had spoken to NRA members who were upset with Lapierre's stance.
"I'm fighting with an association and I don't even know who they are," said Taft. "What if there are 10 other groups, do we have to reject all their assertions, too? ... Who's the NRA?"
Accetta thought pointing to the NRA gave its statements "legitimacy."
Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger was more concerned that the committee was getting involved in politics by endorsing any kind of statement.
"I won't support it," she said. "I don't think it's the role of the School Committee.
"It's our role to ensure that our children and educators are safe. I don't think it's our role to be a forum for special interest groups."
In her 16 years on the board, Boulger said she was not aware of the committee ever endorsing such a statement.
Hockridge said the statewide association representing 1,200 school board members had voted for it 12-1.
"MASC would not have done it if it was inappropriate for them to do it," he said. "Gun safety is a hot topic right now and people are concerned ... We need to stand up for the kids.
"It's not the answer to everyone but anything that increased the safety of children, I am for."
He also said the statement was a direct response to Lapierre's suggestions but was amenable to removing the reference.
"We were elected to make certain decisions that maybe aren't comfortable or well received," said Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the committee. "I'm encouraged because the Massachusetts Association of School Committees has adopted this language ... and sent out letters asking school committees to consider this."
He said it still left the door open for school districts to hire guards if they so choose. And while there was some language he didn't agree with, he thought it on target.
"I think we can make a statement in support of this."
Accetta motioned to amend the statement to remove the NRA reference but failed to get a second when Taft reconsidered.
"I think this is about as strong as you can get and I think this issue deserves that from the committee," said member David Lamarre.
The school district will be beefing up the entrances of the schools with shatterproof glass and locked access. Visitors will have to be let in by the main office, such as at Drury High, above.
Alcombright, Hockridge, Taft, Moulton and David Lamarre voted in favor; Boulger and Accetta against. The statement will now be sent to the city's state and congressional representatives.
During hearing of visitors, citizen Bill Davis had called for options other than "taking guns from law-abiding citizens," such as better mental health efforts and mandatory reporting of those with problems — family or otherwise — to appropriate agencies. He also thanked the mayor for making schools safer.
The board also heard an update on enhancing security at the schools. Superintendent James Montepare had touched on possible options at last month's meeting. On Tuesday, he said those plans had been tweaked to include shatter-proof glass and some type of visual security system.
The entrance doors of the elementary schools will be locked (requiring the installation of "crash bars" for emergency exit) with visitors being buzzed in after visual identification, similar to the current set up at Drury High School. Montepare said a greeter would be used at some schools and a sliding glass window would be installed at Brayton's main office in case there was further need for information. The Northern Berkshire YMCA, attached to Brayton, was also working on securing doorways.
The glass, from Kapiloff's Glass in Williamstown, is Lexan sandwiched with glass, he said. The idea is to give the staff time to contact police and report what was happening.
"You can't cut it, you can't break it, you can shoot it but you can't get in," he said. "They can't do anything to it."
He estimated that the cost for each school would be $5,000 to $7,000 and the work would be done during breaks. Further research will be done on visual security systems, including for one that would support handheld devices for times outside school hours when no one is in the office.
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