Notes from the Board Table: New safety position filled in Wilton

I wanted to share some continued thoughts with you this week about school safety.

During our most recent Board of Education meeting Superintendent Smith announced the hiring of Kim Zemo as the district’s safe school climate coordinator. You may recall that the town security task force strongly recommended this position. Zemo will work with mental health professionals in each of our buildings to provide leadership in identifying, assessing and managing any student perceived to have the potential for risky behavior (towards themselves or others), and to ensure that every child feels connected to at least one adult staff member.

Zemo has been in the Wilton schools since 1996 as a school social worker. Our students know her, and she has established herself as an expert in her field, and a source of comfort and assistance to our students in need.

The tragedy at Umpqua Community College unfortunately underscores the need to prioritize school safety on a daily basis. Parents are aware that we have implemented security protocols throughout our buildings, and Zemo’s appointment furthers our efforts to “touch all bases” in a comprehensive approach to school safety. If you haven’t met her, I encourage you to make the effort to do so at some point. This position and her presence will be a valuable asset to our town for years to come.

Now that the dust has settled I would also like to follow up with you on the canine search at the high school. I had the chance to observe the search would like to share my observations and reflections on the morning’s events. As you know, the search had been publicized to students, so it was expected and our teachers and students were prepared. That said, it was quite something to see eight police cars roll up to the high school, and have the trained officers and their dogs embark on our school.

The search was conducted with the assistance of officers and dogs from the Norwalk, Monroe, Redding and Newtown police departments. As we came to learn, the actual search process is quite laborious for the dogs, so Wilton’s single dog, Enzo (as fast as he is), would not have been able to perform the task by himself. The Wilton police and other regional departments work in partnership when a large facility or area needs to be searched, and we are very grateful for their assistance.

As most probably know by now, the school was put into lockdown mode shortly before the scheduled 9:30 search, meaning all students and staff were required to be in their classrooms.  Each of the eight dogs was assigned to search a certain part of the school ranging from hallways, lockers, locker rooms and all other non-classroom spaces. Dogs were also assigned to each of the parking lots.

The dogs “alerted” on a handful of hallway lockers, along with a few inside the locker rooms.  After further inspection, each locker was determined to be drug-free, although we were advised of the possibility that an illicit substance had been in the locker at one point. Wilton Police Chief Robert Crosby informed us that odors and traces of drugs can remain on a surface for as long as two weeks after a substance has been removed.

Upon completion of the search, Dr. Smith gave the pronouncement we had been hoping for — that Wilton High School was a “clean building,” free of drugs. We did learn later in the day that marijuana was found in one of the student cars parked in the parking lot and that the case was being handled per police department and school protocols.

I left school that morning feeling that we had taken a very important step in ensuring our students’ safety. We do not want drugs in our schools, and we will do whatever we must to keep our buildings drug-free. I believe our students and parents support this strong stand. I’ve had many, many people tell me they support this policy, and in fact, the only questions I’ve really gotten have been about our decision to publicize the search.

As we have said repeatedly, our purpose has never been about “catching” people, but about safety. We don’t want kids to bring drugs to school, and if a student does exercise extremely poor judgment by doing so, we will provide counseling and support as needed. We provided advance warning about this search, just to give fair warning. Going forward, searches will take place at the high school and at Middlebrook, but they will be unannounced.

Wilton is one of only a few schools with a school climate coordinator on staff. We are also among the few schools that conduct canine searches. As I’ve said previously, we will do whatever needs to be done to keep our schools safe, and I am proud of our community for supporting these trailblazing initiatives. We take the job of keeping your kids safe very seriously.

In the coming weeks we’ll be talking more about what we are doing to make sure Wilton kids are getting the best possible education we can provide as well. Stay tuned.