Massachusetts will soon join school districts across the country and upgrade its school security protocol by implementing national background checks of school district employees.
State Representative David T. Vieira (R-Falmouth), whose districts include Bourne, Falmouth and Mashpee, and who serves on the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education, spoke at last night’s Bourne School Committee meeting at Bournedale Elementary School. Mr. Vieira told the board that state lawmakers passed the national background check requirement for educators as one of the final pieces of business before the end of their last session. He said that Massachusetts was the last state in the country to require national background checks on the staff at public schools.
“We did CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) checks, and CORI checks are just with Massachusetts databases,” he said. The representative explained that by relying solely on CORI checks, someone who had committed a crime, perhaps even served jail time, in another state could potentially be hired for a job in the schools here in the Bay State.
“Through only the CORI board in Massachusetts, there’s a chance that we’d never know,” he said.
Mr. Vieira told the committee that implementing national background checks will solve that problem and “increase our confidence in the background checks that we currently do.” He said that starting next school year all new staff will have to go through an FBI fingerprinted background check, in addition to the CORI check. The district will then have three years to have all existing staff go through the same checks.
He said that his request to the authority will not involve money for the major renovations that they are usually focused on. Instead, he would like the authority to create or make available mini-grants so schools can buy equipment, such as buzzers and locks that can help to increase security.
Mr. Vieira told the board members that he has requested that he be returned to the Joint Committee on Education, and that one of his priorities will be school safety. Specifically, he told the committee that he wants the Massachusetts School Building Authority to make funding available specifically for school safety improvements. He said that his request to the authority will not involve money for the major renovations that they are usually focused on. Instead, he would like the authority to create or make available mini-grants so schools can buy equipment, such as buzzers and locks that can help to increase security.
“Without having to go through a full re-design, can we bring in some of those small grants that can help you bring immediate security to the buildings?” he said.
Laura M. Scena, who serves on the Bourne committee’s facilities subcommittee, told the board that the subcommittee had approved $10,000 from the school budget for the purpose of hiring a building safety consultant who would evaluate the schools and make security upgrade recommendations.
School Security A Pressing Matter
School security and student safety was up front and very personal at last night’s meeting. At the start of the meeting, board member Heather A.M. DiPaolo complimented Superintendent Steven M. Lamarche for his leadership in the immediate aftermath of the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Ms. DiPaolo choked back tears while referring to the incident as “a difficult experience” for her as a mother of school-age children.
“I was just so impressed with how our district handled it and I just wanted to make a comment about that before time goes on,” Ms. DiPaolo said.
Mr. Lamarche thanked Ms. DiPaolo and said that student safety is a priority of his administration. He said that he and Edward S. Donoghue, director of business services and facilities manager for the school district, have already visited the schools, and some security adjustments have been made.
“We’re not waiting for a plan to come forward to make adjustments within our facilities; we’re making the adjustments that we can make now,” the superintendent said. Mr. Lamarche said that he was not ready to share what all of the changes are until “people are trained and understand the use of the equipment and the changes in how we lock and secure our buildings.”
He assured the board that school security would continue to be a priority and not something that would fade away with time. Mr. Lamarche also praised the Bourne public school staff for the way in which they handled the school shootings incident and brought the school district back to a sense of normalcy.
“They did a tremendous job and I can’t thank them enough, and this community should be very proud of the teachers they have,” he said.