Hadley schools, police emphasize strong safety ties

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-30-2023 9:04 AM

HADLEY — A series of measures are being undertaken to promote the safety of staff and students at Hadley’s public schools, including doing regular screenings for behavioral risks and maintaining a strong partnership with law enforcement, according to school and police officials.

At the School Committee meeting Monday, both Superintendent Anne McKenzie and Police Chief Michael Mason elaborated on the work being done as a draft school threat assessment policy is being reviewed.

McKenzie said intervention is critical should someone be considering an act of violence, as is identifying signs someone is in a state of distress and needs help.

“Hadley public schools has a range of comprehensive intervention designed to address this very finding,” McKenzie said, adding that interventions are often more extensive than in some very large school districts.

For instance, the schools have bullying intervention and prevention and screen students for behavior risks and mental health concerns three times a year, and students from grades 5 to 12 screen themselves three times a year.

There are also suicide prevention and intervention protocols, and school procedures are aligned with threat assessment protocols developed by the U.S. Secret Service and federal Department of Education.

The presentation comes after a shelter in place was ordered at Hopkins Academy on April 25, following an earlier incident on April 14 in which there was a report of a possible weapon at the school. Both times police searched the building and found no weapon. A shelter in place, reported incorrectly in an earlier article, did not occur in the first incident.

McKenzie said an email was not sent out after the first incident out of concern that might have increased anxieties, not reduced them. Emails sent out in late April, after the second incident, she said, provided as much information as possible, without violating privacy.

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Mason spoke about how aligning standards on the national and state level is important. A key finding, he said, is that incidents of targeted violence in school are rarely sudden, impulsive acts. “They’re usually things discussed, talked about or planned in advance,” Mason said.

He said there is a difference between making a threat and posing a threat and, while there is no specific profile for someone who might act out, McKenzie and school principals using behavioral analysis forms and other data can help.

“I think we’re on the right track to gather the best information we can, even though there’s no actual profile we’re looking for,” Mason said.

Mason said attacks are typically stopped by intervention other than law enforcement. Still, he and the schools started a school resource officer position and have built that relationship to talk about school safety issues.

“In these circumstances law enforcement does respond, if needed, and we will respond promptly,” Mason said. “In the past we were there very quickly.”

McKenzie said all staff are committed to safety. “They intervene immediately, they don’t wait until somebody else shows up,” McKenzie said.

Mason said he is looking for inventive ways to keep children safe, such as new training in western Massachusetts for police officers, firefighters and paramedics to make sure everyone is trained the same way.

School Committee Chairwoman Humera Fasuhddin said she is pleased at the strong connection between schools and police, and applauded the surveying of students and educators. “I don’t have to tell you that school safety is top on parents’ minds,” Fasihuddin said.

Committee member Tara Brugger said police presence makes her feel that police are invested in the community. “Your presence makes a difference,” Bruegger said.

The incidents have raised concern, but Christine Pipczynski, who formerly taught at Hopkins, said it’s unfair that the person reporting possible incidents came under criticism for doing so. “I believe this person was very brave and should be commended for it,” Pipczynski said.

Priscilla Cruz, a 10th grader who is a student representative to the committee, said the shelter in place was stressful and people were anxious.“It was a little bit nerve-wracking and no one really knew what was going on,” Cruz said.

Select Board member Joyce Chunglo said she, too, got some communication from community members worried about what happened, but is confident that public safety is paramount.

“Our school and our police make sure all of our student community is safe and well kept,” Chunglo said.

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