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Mary Hogan tightens security

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February 5, 2007

By ANDY KIRKALDY

MIDDLEBURY — Starting this week visitors to Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary School will have to buzz into the front office to gain entry to the building.

What Mary Hogan Principal Bonnie Bourne called a “low-level” security concern last week prompted school officials to add a buzzer and video camera to the school’s handicap-accessible front door and to lock that door and the two doors next to it.

Assuming the equipment arrives and is installed in a timely manner on Monday, visitors will buzz in and be identified by front office workers before they are allowed to enter.

Bourne said the measures have long been discussed by school officials, but the timetable for installation was moved up after an incident last week, the details of which were not disclosed.

Bourne said at no time last week did she believe that any students or school employees were at risk, but that Mary Hogan officials, including Associate Principal Thomas Buzzell and Addison Central Supervisory Union School Resource Officer Scott Fisher, a Middlebury policeman, had to ask themselves what might happen in a different situation.

She said they concluded it would be prudent to act sooner rather than later.

“I sat here yesterday and in conversation with Scott Fisher and Tom Buzzell and said, ‘OK. Now if this were a higher level of safety concern would we have in place what we need to address it in the most effective way?’” Bourne said on Friday. “And we said, ‘It was in our plan for a bit further down the road. But given this low-level concern right now, this might be the optimum time right now to just push ourselves right through and just do it.’”

Bourne said she was putting the finishing touches on a letter that would be sent home to Mary Hogan parents. She wanted to reassure families that their children were not in danger last week.

“What I want to stress is we do not have a high-level safety concern. We did not yesterday, and we do not today,” Bourne said.

Fisher stood inside the door on Friday morning, but Bourne said he was there as much to work out the logistics of the buzzer system as for safety.

“I would be just as comfortable if he were not spending the day here today,” Bourne said. “One of the reasons he’s here is to help us figure out the what-ifs of it all … It’s probably more advisory than security.”

Bourne lamented the changing times that force such decisions to be made. She noted Middlebury Union Middle School, St. Mary’s School, and other schools around Vermont and the United States are tightening security in the wake of many incidents of school violence.

“Maybe there was a time 20 years ago when we left the doors to our home open. I think fewer people are doing that now. I think unfortunately the situation is such that’s not a prudent thing to do in schools now either,” Bourne said. “So we made the decision yesterday, this is probably as good a time as any to take that next step and secure the front door so we can control who comes into the building.”

ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease said he supported the Mary Hogan decision, which he said is part of an ongoing effort to make all district schools as secure as possible.

“Safety has been a concern of mine almost since my first day as superintendent here,” Sease said. “We want to keep kids safe … When we have an opportunity, we take advantage of it.”

Sease said the rural ACSU schools generally pose more of a security challenge, but that officials have been able to find measures to put in place. 

“We’ve examined all our buildings,” he said. “We’re doing things in all our buildings.”

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