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Parents: 'You can never be safe enough'

Published 11:47 am, Monday, December 17, 2012
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BRIDGEPORT -- Lori Baker walked her fourth-grader to Black Rock School Monday morning, like she always does, but found she couldn't leave.

"I am going to stay here all day. I have to worry about my kid. I know half the kids in this school," she said, planting her feet firm on the cement walkway outside the 107-year-old brick school building.

She was joined by a half-dozen other moms, who huddled in a circle and stood watch.

Friday's massacre of small children 19 miles away in Newtown were on their minds and all they talked about.

That Black Rock school has locked doors, security cameras and a security guard wasn't enough.

"They buzz you in, but then anyone is let in," said Mary Farrington, who has two kids at the school, age 5 and 7. Farrington said she feels guilty that her kids were oblivious to the tragedy until they saw their mom was upset and started asking questions.

"They asked me if kids died, and I said yes. They asked if they were shot. I said yes," said Farrington.

Both Mayor Bill Finch and Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas went to Black Rock Monday and spoke with Principal Karen Helyer. Instead of letting city officials address teachers or children, Helyer thought it would be less disruptive for teachers to use their own judgment to talk about the situation individually with their classes.

"The best thing to do is to make it normal," said Helyer, watching students form two lines in front of the school, small kids in line, bigger kids in another. Vallas agreed.

Meeting outside with reporters, Finch and Vallas said that every school in the city would have a police car outside it Monday.

"You can never be safe enough," said Vallas. "In this day and age we always have to be thinking and rethinking school safety."

"We want parents to know first and foremost their children are safe," said Finch, whose sons both transferred into Black Rock School this year. "My kids haven't even asked me about this. I am blessed they are oblivious because I don't want them to know about this at this young age."

Shively Willingham, special assistant for safety with the school system, said safety checks were being conducted at all 30 school buildings in the city to make sure equipment works and doors are secure. All staff, he said, has gotten crisis management training and know what to do.

Finch said parents can help by reporting doors kept open or unlocked, should report it and it will be corrected.

School board chairwoman Jacqueline Kelleher said school safety would be the first item on the agenda of a special meeting scheduled for Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Aquaculture School, 60 St. Stephen's Road.

Celine Reyes, a parent with a kindergartener and second-grader at the school said she still worries.

"I would like them to address the safety issue. To me the school is wide open. Anyone can get in," said Reyes. At dismissal time, she said it is not uncommon for parents leaving the gymnasium's locked doors to hold the doors open for other parents.

When she comes to read to a class, as she did on Friday, she is buzzed in, signs in at the office, and then proceeds to the class.

"They don't know my background or what could be happening in my head that day," said Reyes.

Charlene Colson, the parent of a 7-year-old, said this should be a wake up call for schools everywhere.

"This could happen anywhere," said Colson, lingering outside the school long after students had started their day.

"I can't think about getting phone call that says come to the school, there is trouble," she said.