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Leverett adopts school lock-down policy

LEVERETT — Leverett Elementary School will begin locking the front door during school hours to improve school security.

The new policy, proposed by Principal Anne Ross, was approved unanimously by the School Committee.

Ross proposed locking the door along with other measures to increase school safety in response to concerns about school safety raised by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut two months ago.

The committee debated whether locking the doors could prove an inconvenience to parents who come to pick up their children before the end of the school day, or to school secretary Marilyn Putnam, who would have to leave her desk repeatedly throughout the day to let people into the building. However, it was decided that these were minor inconveniences and that there was no downside to locking the door.

According to Ross, the new policy would require the doors to be locked from approximately 8:30 a.m. to the end of the school day. Ross plans to send out letters informing parents and staff about the policy change. She expects it will go into effect right away.

“Times have really changed,” said committee Chairwoman Dawn Sacks. “It’s a shift in how we think of ourselves as this open, welcoming community.”

Ross also proposed three additional measures to improve school safety in a memo to the School Committee and the school safety committee.

The first is to extend the intercom system to the health office, giving school staff the ability to release the front door lock from the nurse’s office. The principal tentatively estimated that this would cost $1,000.

The second is to change the locks on the school’s door handles to interior locks.

“The protocol is to lock down,” said Ross, in reference to threats to school security. “The teachers lock the students into the classrooms and wait with them. One of the challenges with lockdown is that the locks (at the elementary school) are on the outside of the doors and must be locked with a key. This is a slow and inefficient process to go through in a moment of nervousness.”

Ross estimates that changing the doors to interior locks would cost approximately $200 per door for 40 doors.

The third measure is to install a separate lockdown alarm system. This would include a “sustained tone dial” that differs from the tone for the fire alarm, buttons to activate the system, and a magnetic release of the doors. The approximated cost of this is a total of $4,300.

None of these measures were voted on during the meeting but will continue to be discussed in the coming months.

Additionally, State Trooper James Carmichael, who was at the meeting Monday, will perform a site survey at the school March 5 to assess safety and determine ways to improve security.

Preschool tuition increase

The School Committee also voted in favor of increasing preschool tuition from $28 per day to $30 per day. The cost of a half-day will increase from $12.90 to $15. The cost for Wednesdays, when dismissal is at 1 p.m, will be $20.

The tuition hike was proposed because the preschool has been drawing heavily on its Early Childhood Revolving Fund to cover costs, according to Ross. The committee supported the motion unanimously. Committee members said they believe that the preschool is still a bargain compared to other area preschools and Ross said she does not think the elementary school will lose any students because of the tuition increase.

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