School district security work nearly done

NASHUA — Standing at the end of the driveway, waving as a yellow school bus drives away with their child sitting next to other small backpack-clad children has been the quintessential back-to-school reality for parents across the country for years.

However, with a recent spate of tragedies and school shootings, the idea of going back to school is changing, as some parents have begun to wonder whether it is safe to put their children on the bus to school at all.

“We’re in a very different era now,” Nashua School District Superintendent Jahmal Mosley said, while lamenting recent attacks on “our most precious, sacred places, where our children are.”

Nashua’s policy regarding guns on school property regulates weapons in a way that is currently not in accordance with state law, in that it strictly prohibits them. New Hampshire is not a home rule state, meaning municipalities cannot govern themselves or set their own regulations when it comes to firearms.

According to a notice from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office in 2016, if a person is licensed by the state to possess a firearm, then they can carry a firearm onto school property. Until last year, New Hampshire gun owners had to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun, but thanks to new legislation, that is now optional, Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie said in an earlier interview.

The state is also “open-carry-friendly.”

This means, Lavoie said, that in order to legally bring a weapon onto school property, concealed or not, one just needs to be able to legally own a gun. The only exception is for students. Whether a student is over the age of 18 or not, local schools are allowed to prohibit students from having a firearm on school property.

Board members agreed to put the conversation on hold until they could consult legal counsel and the Nashua PD, although there have been no known developments on the issue since the initial conversation in mid-April.

In the meantime, officials in the district have been taking steps to alleviate some of these fears for students, staff members and parents, thanks to nearly $400,000 in grants to fund security upgrades.

This money, coming from the New Hampshire Public School Infrastructure Fund, was announced in March to support new interior and exterior cameras, ballistic glass and vestibules at several district schools.

According to Nashua Assistant Director for Security and Safety Christopher Lessard, most of these upgrades have already been completed and are now just undergoing some last-minute adjustments.

Requests for interior cameras at two other schools have been approved, as Lessard said that work will be started in early September.

The interior and exterior cameras have been installed at Charlotte Avenue Elementary School, Fairgrounds Elementary and Middle Schools, Nashua High School North, Dr. Crisp Elementary School, whereas Amherst Street, Broad Street and Main Dunstable Elementary Schools received just exterior cameras.

Bicentennial, Charlotte Avenue and Fairgrounds Elementary schools were also approved for $20,000 vestibules.

Broad Street is also scheduled to receive window/ballistic glass, but the project is still in the works, Lessard said. Due to security reasons, he could not elaborate on which schools currently have ballistic glass in place, but said it is not a Broad Street-specific project.

“It’s a measure we are beginning to implement in the other schools,” he said.

Department of Homeland Security officials recently conducted school safety evaluations around New Hampshire, making recommendations for how schools can improve their current strategies. The department, according to the DHS website, “has redoubled its efforts and is poised to continue enhancing school safety and security” in the wake of shootings in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Some of Nashua’s security upgrades came from the DHS report, whereas others came after discussions with the Nashua Police Department, said district Director of Plant Operations Shawn Smith said.

“It’s an amalgamation of things,” he said.

Additionally, the district has other projects in the pipeline to expand what officials have been doing, and will explore that when more funding becomes available, according to Lessard.

Other than physical security upgrades, the district is still pushing the “if you see something, say something” policy. This calls for anyone in the school community to report any potential threats, and asks that people not let anyone through the school doors behind them.

“We want everyone to sign in and be held accountable,” Mosley said.

School personnel received active shooter safety training from the Nashua PD before the end of the recent school year. There will be another training session next week for new staff members and anyone who may have missed it. Later in the 2018-19 academic year, there will be a “triage” type of training for staff to learn how to apply medical attention when appropriate.

State officials in April requested that all school districts take a look at their existing weapons policies, which are distributed to students every year.

“We want all of our faculty to have an understanding and expectation of what to do in an active shooter event,” Mosley said. “We want to be prepared to save our kids’ lives.”

Hannah LaClaire can be reached at 594-1243 or hlaclaire@nashuatelegraph.com.