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 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.]”
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