NEW CUMBERLAND - Friday's school shootings in Connecticut have prompted two mothers of New Manchester Elementary School pupils to speak out about safety concerns they have regarding the school.
Theresa Cain and Brittan Williams, both of whom have children who attend New Manchester Elementary, told Hancock County school board members Monday night that they think all Hancock County schools should undergo a thorough security review.
"There definitely are (safety) gaps," Cain said, declining to elaborate on what she thinks those gaps are. "We don't want to publicize that."
Cain and Williams said they hope to have a conference with Superintendent Suzan Smith and other school officials soon to discuss their concerns in greater detail.
New Manchester Elementary, like other Hancock County schools, has video surveillance cameras and a buzzer system for entry into the school building. But Cain said elementary schools should have a prevention resource officer the way middle schools and high schools do.
"I don't think that a door buzzer and a camera is enough for our elementary students," Cain said.
"As a parent," said Williams, "I'm just asking that you promise to take a look at it to see if you can make it better."
The women said Friday's shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 first-graders and six school employees were killed, prompted them to ask for improved safety features at Hancock County schools.
"It can happen to us," Cain said. "Changes need to come at every angle."
Smith told the women that she spent Monday touring the district's schools, speaking with principals, reviewing security procedures and checking on the welfare of students and personnel. She also sent an e-mail to principals over the weekend asking them to review security protocols.
"We're not ignoring it. We've been working on it all along," Smith said. "All our principals are working on this. We always try to be proactive."
Board President Jerry Durante, who worked in the security field for 30 years, said the board has made safety at the schools a top priority.
"It's pretty difficult to disagree with you," Durante said to the women. "We share the same concerns that you have. We're not immune to this just because we're in New Cumberland or New Manchester or Weirton. The smallest communities have been affected by this."
Durante said the board recently took steps to close some holes in the district's security plan, but then added, "Is there more that can be done? No doubt." Neither Durante nor Smith would discuss details of changes made to school security systems.
Smith said the improvements being made at Allison and New Manchester Elementary schools - funded by the $37 million bond call - are, in part, being done to address security issues. For example, both schools are getting new windows that do not open, she said.
"The reason they don't open is so intruders can't get in," she said.
Smith said the three new pre-kindergarten classrooms being built at Allison and New Manchester Elementary will eliminate the need for out-buildings, which also will improve safety. "All the pre-K classrooms will now be part of the school building," she said.
Smith acknowledged the need for a continuing review of security procedures. She also said bus safety remains a constant concern.
"There are a lot things we need to be looking at," she said. "The public needs to be helping us out."