Resource officer: Falmouth schools ‘have never been safer’

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FALMOUTH —The School Department has a nearly perfect score when it comes to a state checklist of the best school security measures.

Falmouth follows 64 of the 65 recommendations, leading Rob Susi, the school resource officer, to state the town’s schools have never been safer than they are now.

Even so, parents speaking at a public forum on school safety Monday said they don’t want school officials or community members to be complacent and think that a school shooting, like the one last month in Parkland, Florida, can’t happen here.

During the forum, held at Falmouth Elementary School, parents made a variety of suggestions for keeping kids safe at school, many of which Superintendent Geoff Bruno and School Board Chairwoman Danielle Tracy said they would take under advisement.

Some of those requests included hiring new staff, such as an armed resource officer for each of the town’s three schools, at least one more counselor at the elementary level and paying for an outside security review.

Susi, Falmouth’s only school resource officer, rotates between the town’s three schools but spends most of his time at the high school. As an SRO, Susi said he understands the concerns of parents, particularly in light of the shooting deaths of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

But he also said Monday that he and Bruno and the Falmouth Police Department are always reviewing ways of updating and improving safety protocols in the schools.

However, at least one mother said that wasn’t good enough.

“I’m grateful for your expertise,” she told Susi, “but I want best (protocols) in the nation,” she said to loud applause from the audience.

Another parent said the School Department didn’t have to wait for elected officials to act.

“(W)e can step up as a community and make the decision to never let it happen here,” he said.

That same father also suggested that the schools invest in medical trauma kits and training for staff, saying that if something were to happen, such training could save lives instead of waiting for paramedics to be cleared to enter the building.

In addition to making specific suggestions, parents also asked to be kept updated, with one mother saying, “I’m craving information, so I hope this conversation is just the first of many.”

Other parents said they need to know what’s going on in their child’s classroom, especially if there is an incident of some type at school or a potentially controversial or upsetting conversation occurred during the school day.

In opening the school safety session, Bruno said “my focus is always on the safety, security and welfare of kids on campus and off. (The goal) is to keep our kids safe and learning, that’s why we’re always trying to improve and get better.”

Bruno’s four daughters attend Falmouth schools, so he’s addressing the school safety issue not just as an administrator, but as a parent as well.

However, he also said, the schools have to balance what he called “common sense and practical security measures” with the desire to maintain an open campus, that’s inviting to the community as a whole and helps create beneficial community partnerships.

Bruno said, “I’ve done a lot of reading since the (school shooting in Parkland) and the No. 1 recommendation for staying safe in school is making strong connections between kids and adults.”

The better those connections, “ultimately the safer our kids are,” he said. “We do a lot of this in Falmouth, making sure kids feel connected and have someone to go to. Our educators care very deeply about our kids.”

In talking with kids on campus over the past several weeks, Bruno said the message he’s received is they generally “feel safe and connected.”

And Susi said in addition to building relationships, another key to school safety is simply controlling the entry points, which Falmouth has done well, particularly with new entryways created over the summer at the middle and high schools.

Parents appreciated Susi’s point, but several also wondered, short of installing metal detectors, what could be done to control what students bring to school.

The one safety measure Falmouth schools have not yet taken is practicing lockdown drills with students. Susi said faculty and staff are well trained and take part in such drills at least twice a year.

However, with the school shooting in Parkland, Susi said Falmouth will now hold at least one lockdown drill with students sometime this spring.

The goal is to make the drills age-appropriate, both he and Bruno said, and to give parents plenty of time to talk with their kids about what to expect before the drill happens.

Susi said his thinking had always been that since the majority of mass shootings at schools are carried out by students or former students, it would be best it they didn’t know the specific procedures the school had in place.

But, he said, “in light of recent events, it’s clear that it’s better for our students to know what to do.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

A large group of mostly elementary school parents turned out for a Falmouth School Department-sponsored public forum on school safety Monday.

Rob Susi, Falmouth’s school resource officer, told parents Monday that the town’s schools have never been safer than they are now.