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Essex County Schools Vigilant after Newtown Shooting

Police investigated an alleged bomb threat in Montclair and an incident in West Caldwell; other districts increased security and reevaluated policies.

North Jersey schools have been barraged by threats and rumors in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., prompting some districts to increase security and reevaluate safety procedures. 

In Essex County, police and school officials investigated an alleged bomb threat at Montclair High School and an incident at James Caldwell High School in West Caldwell the week after the Newtown shootings. 

On Monday, a James Caldwell HS student was removed after school officials learned the boy kept a list of eight names —believed to be fellow students —in a notebook. Parents of the students named in the notebook were notified, school officials said. 

On Tuesday, a bomb threat found on Twitter evacuated Montclair High School right before dismissal.

According to school officials, the school followed police procedure and all students and staff were safe. Although Montclair police were unable to confirm if the threat was credible, Essex County Sheriffs, K-9 and Bomb Disposal units, and the fire department responded.

Also on Tuesday, Washington Elementary School in West Caldwell was locked down for an hour in the afternoon after receiving a report of a possible gunshot in the area.

Although parents questioned how long it took to be notified of the lockdown, school officials said they followed proper safety procedures.

“During a lockdown, there cannot be communications from within the school with anyone other than the local law enforcement officials,” a school district representative, Christine Corliss, said.

The school reopened at 2 p.m and parents were notified by email just after 4 p.m.

The recent events caused Verona and Cedar Grove's school districts to reevaluate their safety procedures.  Both superintendents, Dr. Gene Polles, Cedar Grove, and Steven Forte, Verona, said they would work closely with local police to ensure student safety.

Although Verona did increase police presence and added extra school personnel to monitor the school, the district’s main goal was to identify issues to improve long-term safety procedures.

The district plans to work with local police to audit all of the school’s safety procedures.

In Cedar Grove, school officials are reviewing all safety procedures and the schools will plan and review “lock down” procedures.

“Acts of insanity like this are not always preventable, but we do all we can to make our children safe,” Polles said. 

School superintendents in Millburn, Maplewood and South Orange, Livingston, West Orange, West Essex, and Montclair issued statements reassuring parents that student safety is each district’s main priority. 

While most school districts reassured parents that safety procedures were already in place, some opted to increase police presence to ease fears in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings. 

On the day of the shooting, Caldwell and West Caldwell police were stationed outside of schools to provide residents with a sense of security as information became available.

"We felt our presence would be a welcome sight to parents as they picked up their loved ones from school," West Caldwell Police Chief Michael Bramhall told Patch on Dec. 14.

Throughout the week in West Orange, police presence increased at all schools. Interim Superintendent James O'Neill requested officers attend all openings and dismissals.  

“It is prudent for parents to be concerned," O'Neill wrote in a letter to parents.

“Talking about these events at home will help to shore up the feeling of security we want our children to have in our schools,” Cedar Grove superintendent said. “At the same time, these talks will also reinforce the importance of our children remembering and following emergency protocols at school if we ever find ourselves needing to use them.”


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