HANCOCK - When Anthony Friel was a child in the 1970s living in an area on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, he experienced much of the sectarian violence, including gun violence, of the Troubles. It was with that background he came to the regular meeting Monday of the Hancock Public Schools Board of Education to inquire about school security.
During public comment period before the agenda items were discussed, Friel, who had two children graduate from Hancock Central High School, said the recent mass shootings in the country, especially at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. caused him to be concerned about the ease of entry into the Hancock schools.
"I find no problem gaining access to the building," he said.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Members of the Hancock Public Schools Board of Education heard from Hancock resident Anthony Friel (against wall, wearing glasses) about his concern for school safety resulting from the recent shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut. Also shown against wall is teacher Stephen Smith.
Friel asked board members if there was an emergency plan in case of entry into the buildings by someone intent on causing some sort of terrorist activity, such as a mass shooting.
Board President Mark Peters said there was an emergency plan in place, but giving the details in a public forum would be wrong.
"To discuss those plans openly would not be a good idea," he said.
When Friel asked board members if they were concerned about what happened in Connecticut, Peters was adamant they were, and they were also thinking about it regularly.
"Everybody's mortified," Peters said.
Board member Paula Nutini said she understood why Friel was asking about building and student security.
"There are some concerns there," she said.
However, Nutini told Friel there was a "lockdown" plan in place if a similar incident should occur locally.
Superintendent Monica Healy said all the schools in the area have coordinated with Jack Dueweke, director of emergency measures for Houghton and Keweenaw counties.
"We review (the emergency plans) from time to time," Healy said. "In view of what happened (in Connecticut), we need to review them again."
There are some people who think the schools should be open to the public because they're public buildings, Healy said, but there needs to be a balance between security and access.
Friel said he didn't mean to offend the board members with his questions about security, but he thinks it's something needing discussion now.
"Given what has happened, I would have a great deal of concern about that," he said.
Teacher Stephen Smith, who was at the board meeting, said he's constantly thinking about what he would do if someone came into the school and his classroom intent on violence.
"I'm always thinking about things I can do to make things safer," he said. "Sadly, I think about that all too often."
However, Smith said he doesn't want to work in a school which is tightly locked up.
"This is not a prison," he said.
Friel said the survivors of the Connecticut shootings, especially the children, will be affected by the incident for many years to come.
"Those people are changed for the rest of their lives," he said.
In other business, board members:
approved the Best Practices plan submitted by Healy. The plan meets seven of the eight criteria required by the Michigan Department of Education to receive an additional $52 per pupil in state aid.
set 5:30 p.m. Jan. 14 for the board organizational meeting.
accepted the retirement of HCHS paraprofessional aide Carol Freeman.