By Barbara Taormina
Parents and students should feel confident that Malden schools are safe. That was the message Police Chief Kevin Molis, Superintendent of Schools John Oteri and Public Facilities Manager Eric Ruben brought to the City Council this week in the wake of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Malden schools are equipped with surveillance cameras and an enhanced lockdown system which are part of a district-wide emergency plan. School building security is continually assessed; school staff and first responders undergo periodic emergency training and students take part in three emergency drills each year. Molis spoke briefly about those security measures, but most of his message was focused on what he described as an environment of shared responsibility that emphasizes prevention and vigilance.
“What goes on daily in a school really affects the overall safety of a school,” he said. “If it’s an environment where people feel respected, where people feel dignified, where people feel they can be who they are, if those conditions exist it can minimize those sad and tragic times in someone’s life when they might feel alienated, alone, frustrated or angry.”
“The concept of providing a very good environment where young people are able to feel comfortable with who they are goes a long way toward providing an environment of safety,” said Molis.
Oteri also stressed the importance of a tolerant and inclusive school environment. “We are creating and sustaining a culture of respect, making people feel safe and included,” he said. “We are trying to foster that, and considering the diversity of our schools and the city, I think we do a remarkable job.”
Molis said the community can help keep students safe by reaching out to the police and school officials if they are concerned that an individual’s behavior might be trending toward violence. “The most compassionate act is to let someone know who is in a position to help,” he said.
Seeing something and saying something will not cause difficulties for individuals if the problem can be solved through an intervention, explained Molis, adding that police and school officials are professionals who understand discretion and confidentiality. “The worst thing is to have something happen and have someone say, ‘I could have prevented that,’” said Molis. “There’s no penalty for getting it wrong.”
The school district’s emergency plan includes prevention strategies such as developing channels of communication for students to report concerns about potentially threatening behavior, conversations or online posts. “We make sure that every student has an adult in the building they can turn to,” said Oteri.
This year school officials and Malden police worked together to investigate six tips that ultimately did not uncover any threats to Malden schools. Still the police and school officials were glad that students and parents reached out.
While city councillors appreciated the information and advice about school safety, they seemed surprised to learn that the Malden Police Department no longer assigns a school resource officer to any of the city’s schools. Molis was not clear on when or why Malden’s school resource officer program was discontinued. However, he said that neighborhood or sector-based officers are expanding their patrols to include city schools.
Molis, who described his own stint as a school resource officer as one of the most satisfying of his career, said that if it were economically feasible, he would embrace the opportunity to put the right person back in the schools.