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Tuscan Parents Demand School Security Improvements

Tuscan parents attended Monday's Board of Education meeting to voice concerns over district security procedures.

South Orange and Maplewood Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne
South Orange and Maplewood Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne

The South Orange and Maplewood Board of Education continued to discuss the safety of its students, Monday, in response to a recent NBC report.

More than two-dozen concerned parents filled the Board of Education meeting, looking for answers after a reporter was able to wander Tuscan Elementary School for more than two minutes with a hidden camera.

A few parents told the Board that unlocked doors at Tuscan are the norm and “not an irregularity.”

“I've been trying to get the Tuscan administration to enforce school safety since Newtown,” parent Laura Svensson said. “When my daughter started kindergarten I was told all visitors are announced before giving entry, but I never saw anyone in the office, they were buzzed right in, no questions asked, including myself.”

After Newtown a letter was sent home to parents saying that all schools must remain locked and that all visitors must be buzzed in, she said.

“The next morning, Tuscan's front doors were wide open to the public as usual,” she added.

“We do have security protocols in place,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Osborne. “They include establishing that a visitor has a legitimate purpose for being in the school, or is recognized before the visitor is allowed entry. In this instance that did not happen.”

In addition, every school in the district is locked, cameras are in place, each school has a crisis management team and they conduct regular security drills so that students know what to do in an emergency situation, he said.

“Any breach or irregularity is treated as an opportunity to learn and improve to make our school safer,” he added.

In light of the NBC report, the district added cameras in Tuscan School with live feeds, began reviewing security plans to detail procedures and will be re-training all key staff throughout the district. They will also be working with security experts from the South Orange and Maplewood Police Departments to review and enhance security protocols.

Other ideas moving forward include eliminating unscheduled visits, two sets of locked entry doors, reconfiguring entry ways so that main offices are closer to the entrance and security guards to monitor entryways.

However, parents expressed that the Board is not doing enough during the public portion of the meeting.

“All more cameras will do will give all of us in the media more footage to air after a horrific incident,” said Phil Lipof, father of a Tuscan student and ABC news reporter. “Double doors are a great idea and that should happen in every school.”

“In every single school there needs to be, in my opinion, a person sitting at the front door all day long,” he said to applause from the other parents.

Some residents are calling for accountability and for action to be taken against office receptionist Magda Toledo, while others are saying she should not be made a scapegoat.

“I'm concerned after the Principal's roundtable meeting,” said Judy Nunn, former head of Tuscan Safety Committee. “At that meeting, Dr. Osborne said he would take warranted personnel action because of this incident. I am concerned that Mrs. Toledo could be let go. I urge you all not scapegoat Mrs. Toledo.”

“This is a top-down issue,” she added. “Mrs. Toledo has always been very consistent with me and my husband at the door buzzer. I have also known her to be very kind and extremely effective as a secretary.”

“This is something we are taking very, very seriously,” said Board of Education President Beth Daugherty. “I don't think there is a quick answer, it is something we need to spend time with and think about what the different scenarios are. Some things can be immediately improved but the longer term fixes will take serious deliberation.”

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