TOWNSEND-- "Nobody can prevent some of things that are going to happen. It's just not possible. But the best defense you have, the best protection you have for your children is right here tonight," said Marian Ryan of the Middlesex District Attorney's office.
Ryan was just one of several panelists that Superintendent of Schools Joan Landers invited to the North Middlesex Regional High School on Thursday evening as part of a school safety information session for parents. Landers organized the event in response to the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn. Also present were Townsend Police Chief Erving Marshall, Pepperell Police Chief David Scott, representatives from the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council's STARS team (School Threat Assessment Response System) and Margie Daniels, executive director of the Middlesex Partnerships for Youth.
The school department has a district-wide crisis response team, individual school crisis response teams and emergency plans and protocols for the district that are reviewed annually, said Landers. But following the Newtown shootings, districts across the nation are reexamining their plans to ensure the utmost safety of the children, she said. Part of that is communicating with parents the resources that the district is able to utilize, such as NEMLEC.
Each of the 53 police departments that are part of NEMLEC commit officers that respond to the other towns for a variety of needs, ranging from a need for K9 units to detectives to SWAT response; STARS, which began in 1999 following the infamous Columbine shootings, is devoted to the safety of the school districts in each town, said STARS representative and Wilmington Police Lt. Scott Sencabaugh. The teams are trained in a variety of areas and have various mutual aid partners, ranging from the FBI to Middlesex Community College, in order to constantly continue their training. There are four STARS response teams so that there is always somebody ready to respond.
"You're not alone," he said. "We're here to assist you."
The local police departments also practice active shooter scenarios. As members of NEMLEC STARS, officers have updated layouts of the school in their cruisers at all times. Prior to the Newtown incident, the district began moving forward with putting buzzer systems in the front doors of all the schools, according to Landers. Children and teachers also go through safety drills.
"We want to make sure we're moving in the direction we should be moving in," she said.
Members of the STARS Crisis Recovery Team, made up of mental health professionals and social workers, shared tips on how to address issues with children in the event of a tragedy, mainly being approachable, listening to what the child has to say and allowing room for open, safe discussion.
"The more open you can be with your children, the more they're going to come to you, the more they're going to be less anxious," said Crisis Recovery Team coordinator Kristin Kirby.