Stafford School District Parent Raises Additional Concern Regarding Safety Measures in Place

Mar 21, 2018

School safety remains a hot topic across the country, as evidenced by the national “walkouts” on March 14. A week earlier, the concerns grew deeper when seven Stafford Intermediate School students were arrested and charged with making terroristic threats while in school.

Parent Sean Kemether made his specific concern known to Superintendent George Chidiac in a pair of emails after learning of the incident and addressed the entire Stafford Township Board of Education in its monthly meeting on March 15.

His main question: Why are no measures in place to prevent the possibility of a weapon entering the school?

“I respect the job you have, and I’m not saying any of this is easy to deal with,” Kemether said while sitting in the Oxycocus School gymnasium, with his wife, Michelle, next to him. “But our concern is that there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place, right now, to do what we can to minimize the risk of a weapon getting into the schools.”

In his emails to Chidiac, Kemether outlined some of the things the superintendent has stated as part of the safety presentation made by administrator David Ytreboe at February’s meeting as well as comments he had made following the Stafford Intermediate incident, in a letter sent to parents as well as those made to certain media outlets.

But Kemether pointed out something that had not been previously addressed, noting that for all the safety measures in place, none specifically address how to prevent anybody – student, staff or outsider, whether it be a parent visiting or a delivery person dropping off something – from getting into the school with a weapon.

“Virtually all of them deal with a situation when a person, with a weapon, is already in the school,” Kemether said. “But our concern is that nothing is in place to try to minimize the risk of people getting into the school with weapons. What plan is there going forward to minimize the risk?”

Going further, Kemether recognized that it’s impossible to guarantee 100 percent safety of all students at all times, but he requested that Chidiac and the board now focus on that particular issue and deliver additional measures to largely alleviate such a possibility.

In his email to Chidiac and the board, Kemether mentioned the possibility of using scanning devices – either metal detectors or another such warning device – as well as bag and coat checks, and restricting entrance to the buildings to just one or two doors. He verbally expressed those options to the board during the meeting as well.

“There has been too much bloodshed, and we must act now,” he stated in the email. “There is no second chance to this situation, and one lost life is one too many.”

Responding to Kemether’s comments and concerns during the meeting, Chidiac said the district and board are continually assessing the safety measures in place and figuring out ways to make the schools even safer, if that’s possible. Chidiac said the board is considering adding two more school safety officers as a starting point.

Asked by Chidiac to also address Kemether’s comments, Ytreboe added that, while detection devices would be expensive to install, other measures will be explored to address Kemether’s specific concern.

In other board business, a new face was sitting among the board on March 15. It had been rumored following the Feb. 15 meeting that attorney Anthony Sciarrillo had resigned from his position as the board attorney as well as resigned from the Westfield-based firm Sciarrillo, Cornell, Merlino, McKeever and Osborne, LLC from being the board’s representatives for contract negotiations between the board and Stafford Township Education Association.

Board President Mike Hemenway after the meeting confirmed that Sciarrillo and that firm had in fact resigned, and the board has since hired the services of The Busch Law Group.

“Just before the last meeting, Mr. Sciarrillo informed us that it would be his last,” Hemenway said. “He had to give us 60 days and he was doing that, but we in turn accepted the resignation and released him, and then hired The Busch Law Group.”

The new attorney sitting in on March 15 was Jonathan Busch, who heads the legal group, out of Metuchen.

“Before hiring Mr. Sciarrillo, we had talked with five firms and we could have brought any of them back because we knew who they were,” Hemenway said. “But we decided to go with new ones and interviewed five other firms, and we really liked Mr. Busch and his firm.”

Given the state of the negotiations between the board and the education association – the sides currently are meeting with a New Jersey fact-finder in an effort to settle the contract – some at last month’s meeting implored the board to forgo the use of an attorney during the negotiations as a means of trying to get the settlement done.

While he is not part of the board’s negotiations committee – along with six of the other eight board members – Hemenway said the board is interested in continuing the negotiations with an attorney, and The Busch Law Group has a legal adviser ready to step in when the fact-finding discussions resume, possibly in April.

“At the end of the day, it’s absolutely true that the contract negotiations are between the board and the union,” Hemenway said. “The attorney’s essentially there to give advice and direction on what you can do, what you can’t do, what you can say, what you can’t say, things like that. Anything we say or do is subject to scrutiny by an attorney, and so we have to be careful with that, especially with negotiations.”

The only two now sitting in on the negotiations with the association are board Vice President Richard Czajkowski and recently elected member Patricia Formica. The rest of the board members either are educators in other districts or have a relative working within the Stafford district, which excludes them from being part of the negotiations, as well as from the ability to vote to approve the final contract.

STEA members have been working under the terms of their old contract, which expired June 30, 2016, for the past two school years.

— David Biggy

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