UPDATED: School security measures to be reviewed in wake of breach
Security will be assessed and a regional safety committee formed in the wake of a security breach Nov. 17 at Apponequet Regional High School and Freetown schools that led to charges being filed against 28-year-old Freetown woman.
Kayla Farris Churchill, who has two children in the district, faces charges of disturbing a school assembly after she gained access to Apponequet Thursday, Nov. 17 by bypassing the main office and speaking to students and a staff member, Lakeville Police said. The incident remains under investigation by Lakeville Police and additional charges are possible, police said.
Churchill said in an interview Saturday, Nov. 19 that her actions were the result of concerns she had about safety of the district schools in the wake of the school shootings in Uvalde, Texas and other locations.
Saying that she felt her concerns about school security were not heard, she said she wanted to “test their safety measures.’’
She said she attempted to gain access into the Freetown schools and Apponequet by saying she was there to pick up a student. She used a false name for the student, she said, but was still allowed to enter the buildings.
Once inside the high school, she said, she walked unimpeded through the halls of the building, past an auditorium filled with students and ended up at the gym.
There, she said, she told the gym teacher that she was “technically an intruder.’’ She said she was taken into an office, met by the school resource officer and Superintendent of Schools Alan Strauss, among others, and told to leave the building.
She said her concerns about school safety were sparked by her young son, who she said was deeply upset by the Texas shootings, which happened to children in his age group.
In response to his reaction, she said she researched the issue and proposed potential security upgrades.
She said that Strauss was sympathetic to her concerns, noting that he previously worked at a school district not far from Newtown, Ct., where 20 children between six and seven years old and six adult staff members were killed in a school shooting in 2012.
But when it came to having the issue of school safety being placed on the Freetown School Committee agenda, she said, she was stymied. Freetown School Committee Chair Steve Owen “doesn’t want to have the conversation,’’ she said.
Owen said that any comment about the issue should come from Strauss.
In a letter to the school community issued Sunday, Nov. 20, Strauss wrote that “although there certainly were very specific protocols in place, there clearly was an unacceptable opportunity to breach security, and we have worked to prevent that from happening in the future.’’
He wrote that “prior to this week, Freetown Elementary School was provided with a new vestibule security window and the second set of doors in the vestibule were given security bars to prevent access after a visitor is buzzed in by the office staff.’’
In the days since the security breach, Strauss said he has had conversations with Lakeville and Freetown police chiefs and town officials.
Issues discussed included: making all vestibules secure; placing visible and clear no trespassing signs; and developing a regional safety committee that will meet quarterly.
Other steps include securing a free security assessment through a collaboration with Freetown Select Board Member Carlos Lopes for all five district schools; retraining of staff; consistent active shooter training, through the ALICE program, especially for new staff; and purchasing a visitor ID program that will help secure the validity of the provided identification.
“Our safety protocols and procedures are only as strong as the consistency and vigor we apply to them and we must do a better job moving forward. And we will,’’ Strauss wrote.
He said that the district appreciates all ideas that have been provided. “We hope as you visit your school or schools that you see the protocols in place,’’ he wrote. “If you do not, immediately notify the school principal and myself.’’
Churchill said her actions were “not meant to hurt anybody or to be mean or to scare anyone.’’
The schools, she said, “need to take this seriously. If I have to face charges, I want it to be for something.’’