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Wyckoff Ponders Children's Safety in Wake of Newtown School Shooting

While some parents are calling for stricter procedures to protect their children and others say current measures are sufficient, officials are say they are exercising prudence.

Wyckoff Public School officials and board members, parents, and township officials gathered at a public meeting Monday night to discuss school safety, just three days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Superintendent Richard Kuder reviewed the schools' safety protocol, including twice monthly emergency drills at every school and the implementation of a buzzer system that screens those looking to make entry into school buildings.

Kuder didn't rule out future changes to security here, but suggested administrators would look for ways to improve.

“We will continue to look for ways to upgrade the system if that’s possible," he said to the assembled crowd at Eisenhower Middle School. "There are things the principals and I have talked about, certain areas that need to be addressed, just in terms of functionality.”

In Newtown, Conn., Adam Lanza is believed to have bypassed the school's buzzer system, forcing his way into the elementary school Friday morning.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the administration communicated with parents in hopes they could allay fears and increased police presence around schools on Monday morning.

Parents' opinions Monday night echoed a national debate on just how far school officials should take safety.

Steven Salisbury, the parent of a Ramapo High School student, said Wyckoff is already a safe district. He was not nervous whatsoever when he sent his son back to school Monday.

“I think it needs to be changed a little bit but you can’t be totally crazy about it," Salisbury said. "You can’t be like the military, there’s got to be a balance, but what is that balance? That’s the tough part.” 

Bethany, a Wyckoff resident and mother of children who are not yet of school age, said the Newtown shooting should prompt a “drastic” overhaul to security protocol in township schools.

“I’m a teacher as well in another district and I just want the parents to understand that the measures they have right now, the cameras, the buzzers, the things that are supposed to make students and parents feel safe, its not enough — it’s pretty much nothing," said Bethany, who did not provide her last name. 

“I’ve worked in schools with armed guards, locked entrance vestibules where parents can go in drop a binder off, drop a lunch off, but cannot enter actual school," she said. "Pickup and drop-offs at a gate, you can’t bring kids in or out, and so many other things.  Police on campus, police stations that are built in the center of the campus, things like that.”

Wyckoff Mayor Chris DePhillips acknowledged that while many parents would push for stricter security, there was a middle ground to investigate.

“The reaction was one of serious concern, because if you know Newtown, Conn., you know it is a very similar community to Wyckoff," DePhillips said. 

Both Wyckoff and Newtown have strong schools, houses of worship and a very strong sense of community, underscoring that what happened in Connecticut on Dec. 14 could happen anywhere, including here, DePhillips said. 

"There was an immediate reaction of concern, but then once I spent the weekend talking to the superintendent, talking to the chief of police, I was reminded and assured that we have a very strong security system in our schools," he said.

The mayor indicated that the relatively small crowd of parents could be seen as evidence that concerns in the community were nominal. 

"As you can see, there were not many concerns this evening from parents about whether our schools are safe,” DePhillips said.

He went on to say that following conversations over the weekend with Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox, both men agreed to increase police patrols at schools Monday morning to hearten the community. The mayor however, went on to say that he didn't want schoolyards and parking lots to become "places where there are armed guards." 

While Fox didn't have concrete answers to questions of security, he told parents that communication was key and spoke about the relationship between his department and the schools during a time when children's safety has been thrust into the national spotlight. 

“I wanted to be here, communicate, let the community know that myself and the police department will be in constant communication with the school system,” Fox said. “Now is not the time to make snap judgments about [changing security significantly.]” 

Have a question or news tip? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Son_of_Wyckoff December 20, 2012 at 03:34 PM
I have to admit, this quote caught my eye, "decline in the quality of life for families, anxiety for the children" - Really?? Have the children of Wyckoff ever been on a plane, gone to a concert or other events? They have to pass through a higher level of security than at school and it seems that their anxiety level is just fine. Lets look at fire safety and school security. Schools are built and designed to withstand a fire and have many redundant systems to protect the children. I am not a fireman or an expert in this field so I will let others fill in the blanks. But when is the last time you saw a TV news story about a fire killing any students in a school? Schools are built to contain and prevent a fire from spreading. School safety, how do we prevent a person who wants to do the children harm, look no farther than fire safety. Prevent and contain. What are we doing right now to prevent and contain. Buzzers at the door? Can that person access any part of the school as soon as the door is unlocked? Honest people and parents will play by the rules, others will not. Time to bring in the professionals and have them tell us just how many holes there are. If we could turn back the hands of time two weeks and ask the parents of Newtown are the schools safe, I think they would have responded in the exact way the people of Wyckoff would. Lets take the steps needed to protect Wyckoffs future now.
Jon December 20, 2012 at 06:30 PM
well said,,
Safety 1st December 20, 2012 at 06:41 PM
I was at Ramapo just today to pu my son who was sent home ill. No buzzer at door. Walked right in. There is a security desk w 1 slight woman at it. I had to sign in. She called front office and she escorted me to front office. But, the front door was left w out security. Even w buzzers, students open doors for others. There does need to be a bit tighter security for sure. This is Fresh now and now is time to plan better security.
Brian December 20, 2012 at 06:54 PM
The odds are astronomically better that a child will be killed on the way to school in a car crash. Or from drinking or drugs. (or from a lighting strike which is much more likely than being killed in a school shooting. ) Want to save lives? Make towns more bike/pedestrian friendly. Get serious about student alcohol and drug use. It is easy to over-react but this is an extremely rare situation.
Lilov Fencing Academy December 20, 2012 at 07:19 PM
I am afraid we're going to have to place a police officer with a gun in every school...I am aware of hurdles/expenses it'd create but if that was the case that psycho would not kill SO MANY KIDS.
Michael Stern December 20, 2012 at 08:20 PM
As stated before this should be used as an opportunity to check our school security and make " smart changes" where needed.
MER December 20, 2012 at 10:24 PM
I agree. Glad I am not the only rational person left!
Son_of_Wyckoff December 21, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Amazing, make a statement that you want to protect the children at school and people start making statements like "armed guards on school doors." I had to go back and look at my original post and see if I said that. Place armed guards at the doors, the media will cover it and a sick person who wants to harm people is smart enough to enter someplace else. These acts are not random and a very well thought out, ever notice how people always describe the shooter as calm.. Once again, I am not talking armed guards, or having Wyckoff PD walking the halls. I am saying bring in the experts, get a gap analysis done. Lets look at how to prevent and contain if something like this happens around here. This is not a pro or anti gun comment, so lets leave that out of these.

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