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Superintendent Pulls The Trigger On Gunshot Detection Devices In Schools

Sep 10, 2019 03:11PM ● By Lisa Redmond

DRACUT – As part of the School Department’s upgrades to security, gunshot detection devices will be installed in the hallways and cafeteria in all schools to instantly notify school officials and the police in a school shooting situation, according to School Superintendent Steven Stone.

A week after the schools opened their doors for the 2019-2020 school year, Stone told the School Committee on Monday the gunshot detection devices are part of the School Department’s continued security upgrades.

Since these devices need “a lot of testing’’ and the use of “live’’ gunfire, Stone said nothing will be done until the next school vacation when the school buildings are closed.

In general, the devices, which are roughly the size of a pack of gum, recognizes the audio signatures of gunfire and can distinguish between real gunshots and firecrackers, for example. Sensors in the device can transmit the location of the gunfire. When gunshots are detected the devices notify the police and direct cameras to the source of the gunshots.

“This is all about protecting our students and staff,’’ Stone said.

Stone explained that when a device is activated, the Dracut Police will be notified instantly notified, cameras are triggered, and staff and students receive information and directions through public address systems, Stone said.

Stone explained this security upgrade is one of many physical changes to the buildings and training of staff funded through a Town Meeting allocation of $950,000 for school safety upgrades.

In addition, through the efforts of the Dracut Police Department, the schools will now have three police officers who have been designated a school resource officers. There is one SRO assigned to the high school and one to the middle school. Both of those SROs will also spend time at the district’s four elementary school. And the third officer will fill the scheduling gaps.

Stone explained that every school has had some sort of security upgrade from cameras, videos, door locks and a key lock system for staff. Stone noted that efforts have been made to “harden the buildings’’ so that entry into school buildings has been made “extra hard’’ to reduce the ability of an unwanted person entering the schools.

The school district has also joined the Sandy Hook Promise Project that includes staff training on a number of safety issues and assemblies for the students.

School Chairman Allison Volpe said, “I hate that we need it, but I’m happy we are trying to keep our kids as safe as we can.’’

Committee member Susan Koufogazos echoed that sentiment. “I’m grateful for all the work that has been done, but I hate it.’’

In other business:

Stone explained that it was a “very smooth opening’’ of the school year. The only “struggle’’ were problems with transportation. Normally there are a few dozen complaints about buses at the start of school, but this year there were 45 different issues, Stone said.

A Joseph Avenue parent told the committee there were complaints about drivers not knowing their routes and arriving late at school, sometimes arriving after the first bell rang so students felt rushed. She asked if the buses could be outfitted GPS systems with the routes and bus stops preprogramed.

Stone told the committee that the schools’ transportation department has “expressed our frustration’’ to the schools’ bus contractor North Reading Transportation. Stone expects the issues to be resolved shortly.

With vaping on the rise among students, Stone said vaping detection devices will be installed in the bathrooms and locker rooms at Dracut High School and Richardson Middle School. These devices detect smoke from vaping devices and notify school officials via text of the location.

The project cost is $45,000, Stone said.

Vaporizers are electronic cigarettes that contain a liquid cartridge that usually contains nicotine, chemical flavoring or other substances. Smoking is not allowed on school property, but vaping devices can be disguised as pens, lighters, USB drive and more.

Stone stressed that the police and SPO are not involved. There will be assemblies to explain the devices to the students, he said.

“This is not a big brother issue,’’ Stone said. “We are not looking to catch anyone. This is a deterrence measure and another layer of health and safety for the students,’’ he said.

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