March 27, 2018 — The mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida has given renewed focus on school security. In Weston, many residents have expressed concern that, in the proposed 2018-19 budget, funding for two security staff positions has been eliminated.
In public hearings, members of the Board of Education, School Superintendent William McKersie, and leadership of the Weston Police Department have discussed the budget reduction in the broader context of overall school security. Their task is complicated by the need to not disclose details of new or existing security measures. This also complicates the public's ability to be assured that adequate security measures are in place.
To address these concerns, on March 26, 2018, Dr. McKersie and Police Chief Edwin Henion sent a letter to Weston public school families and staff on this important matter. If you have children in Weston's schools, you may have already seen it. If you do not have children in the schools, or for some other reason have not seen the letter, we have reproduced it here. We have included links referenced in the document to related correspondence issued earlier this year.
The following is a direct quotation from Dr. McKersie's and Chief Henion's letter, in its entirety.
To: Weston Public School Families and Staff
From: William S. McKersie, Ph.D., Superintendent; Edwin S. Henion, Chief of Police, Weston Police Department
Re: Weston Public Schools Safety & Security – Personnel Resources
As Police Chief and School Superintendent, we are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all Weston Public School (WPS) students and staff. We have formed a strong team between the Weston Police Department (WPD) and WPS. Chief Henion brings expertise on school security to his leadership in Weston, including first responder work on school threats. Dr. McKersie has now led two districts that place top priority on safety and security.
Frequent communications on critical security issues is essential. Dr. McKersie has sent two major updates to the WPS community since the Parkland shooting. The first was on February 19 (2-19-18_WPS_Safety_and_Security); the second was on March 22 (3-22-18_Safety-Security_Drill_Update_Memo). Dr. McKersie stressed that "our focus is on providing high quality security structures, technology and personnel, but just as importantly developing connections to assist students and families in crisis." The statements addressed multiple aspects of our security apparatus and approach.
This memorandum reviews the comprehensive personnel resources protecting staff and students in case of any emergency or crisis. The WPD takes the lead role in providing protection and first- response services. This memorandum is intentionally technical and analytical relative to the plans and actions of our personnel. Please understand that for optimal safety and security, we cannot share all elements of our safety and security operations.
The Weston Public Schools have strong levels of security staffing and first-responder capacity. Few districts and towns in the region can match the combination of security and police protection Weston provides its schools.
Armed protection and response is the responsibility of the Weston Police Department. The following facts indicate the high level of police protection provided to the campus, schools, students and staff.
1) The layout of the campus, with four schools closely aligned on a one-mile long road, allows the police to efficiently monitor activities, identify possible threats and respond rapidly in an emergency.
2) It is rare to have the Police Headquarters immediately adjacent to a public school campus. This allows the Chief and other officers to be regularly on campus and around the schools, increasing police visibility on a daily basis. It ensures uncommonly fast response time by police during emergencies.
3) No other area district has within its campus a Regional Cyber Crime Lab (stationed in Central Office Annex Building), which on a daily basis has several police officers on site, each of whom are required to respond to any emergency or crisis on campus.
4) We have a School Resource Officer (SRO) at the High School, who now circulates to the Middle School on a regular basis. SRO Joe Mogollon also is called on to work with any families or students requiring police assistance at the elementary schools.
5) The WPD conducts active shooter drills in the school building during non-student hours.
6) The WPD participates in school safety drills, and provides post-drill critiques.
7) WPD patrol vehicles have current physical plans for the schools, and the officers have good knowledge of the buildings and have the means to access every part of a school.
8) The Mile of Safety construct, unique to Weston, continues to have police officers regularly patrolling campus during school hours. In addition to being a traffic control system at the beginning and end of the school day, it provides an armed presence monitoring who is coming onto campus at busy times. To clarify, the Mile of Safety will remain the same in 2018-19, unchanged from the current school year.
9) The WPD provides other monitoring and protective services, which we cannot divulge in order to ensure optimal security.
Weston families and staff must recognize the police expertise focused on our schools. Chief Henion’s assurances about the strong police presence for our campus is rooted in extensive command and front-line experience. Captain Matthew Brodacki has increased his role with the WPS. He directly supervises the SRO and works closely with WPS administrators whenever needed. Captain Brodacki also is an experienced first-responder in school crises. Within the WPS, Joseph Olenik, Director of Facilities and Security, has 38 years of law enforcement experience, including 20 years as a police chief in the State University of New York (SUNY).
As Police Chief and School Superintendent, we constantly review Weston’s security apparatus and approaches. We confer several times per week. Chief Henion and Captain Brodacki work regularly with Mr. Olenik and all school administrators, and meet with the Board of Education in Executive Session and in regular Board meetings.
We are charged with assessing risk levels relative to resource allocations. From a budget standpoint, we are confident that the proposed allocation of resources in 2018-19 reflects current and anticipated needs. This past year, a review of the district’s security procedures, plans and infrastructure, as well as the schools’ security plans, was completed. After this review, we believe the allocation of resources is appropriate.
Nevertheless, we listen to input and questions, and always consider new approaches, including necessary modifications to the level and deployment of personnel resources. Any changes would be based on evidence and expert analysis.
We understand the heightened fears about security and safety, sparked by the increased incidents of gun violence in schools. We must underscore, however, that schools remain the safest locations for young people, and the Weston Public Schools have attributes that law enforcement experts say make our schools especially secure.
Rest assured, we will be vigilant in our shared work to provide a safe and secure educational environment. Caring is what we have most in common—caring for the students and staff in the Weston Public Schools.