GHS Adds to Security Staffing

By Ivan H. Golden, Pg. 1

Greenwich High School will have a larger, more visible security force this year.
The school hired one new security guard this summer, bringing the total to seven, and administrators hope to hire two more guards soon, Assistant Headmaster Alan Capasso said yesterday.

The school also bought uniforms for the security guards this year, a change from past years when guards wore plain clothes.

“We wanted the security to be easily identifiable,” Capasso said. “So if there’s a problem, they’re very visible.”

The changes are intended to meet the school’s needs, Capasso said, but they also are a reaction to the heightened awareness following the rash of school shootings that have occurred around the country in the past few years.

In June, Intelex Ltd., a Greenwich private security company, led a two-day training session for the seven guards. Guards were trained in security basics such as conflict resolution, how to approach strangers in the building and how to deal with the public.

The board considered having police officers handle security at the high school, Capasso said, but many parents and students were uneasy about the idea, particularly because police would be required to carry guns in the school.

“I don’t think I’d be as comfortable with uniformed police,” said Carol Winick, a junior at the high school. “I don’t like guns very much.”

Winick was one of several students at the school yesterday who said they generally feel safe in the building. That seems to be the prevailing attitude among students and their parents, Capasso said. Even after a few minor incidents throughout the district, including one in which bullets were found in an elementary school library, most parents feel their students are safe in the school buildings.

The Board of Education held a special meeting on security last year and few parents attended. Board Chairwoman Ginny Krob said the attendance was low not because of apathy, but because parents already believe their children are safe in Greenwich public schools.

Greenwich High School sophomore Jimmy Jagodzinski said he feels that way, although he had no objection to the high school adding security.

“I don’t think (security) is much of a problem,” he said. “But it’s better to have more than less.”

For a little while, though, the security force will be short-staffed. The school is hoping to hire two more guards, after two candidates the school was interested in hiring were unable to take the job.

Still, Capasso said the security will be better than last year. Not only will there be one additional guard, but guards also will work longer shifts (eight hours instead of seven), so the building will have more security throughout the day. When all the guards are hired, there will be at least one security guard in the building from 6:45 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Capasso said. And on days when there will be students in the building later than that – for example, on the night of a dance – the school plans to hire off-duty police officers.

The school has made other security changes in the past few years. Last year, the school conducted an emergency drill to teach students what to do in the event of a crisis, Capasso said. And teachers and administrators have warned students not to make threats, even in jest or in the heat of an argument.

“Most of them will say, ‘I didn’t mean anything by it,’ ” Capasso said. “And they probably didn’t.”

But, he added, the school takes every threat seriously. Any time a student makes a threat, administrators will talk to the student’s housemaster, guidance counselor, teachers and parents to determine if there is any substance to the threat. Last year, the school suspended several students for making verbal threats, Capasso said.

But, for the most part, he added, students understood the reason for the extra caution and were careful not to make threats or say anything inappropriate.

“Our kids are good kids,” he said. “By and large, they’re good students and they’re responsible. But the scary thing is that all it takes is one person. That’s a very difficult threat to guard against.”