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EMA hosts school safety conference amid new school threats

The annual school safety program was held at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick on Thursday.
The annual school safety program was held at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick on Thursday.
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The Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency held its annual school safety seminar Thursday, and threats twice made against schools in Johnston, Cranston and Warwick were part of the discussion.

The seminar at the Crowne Plaza was not held because of the threats, but they were talked about as law enforcement and school officials continue to work together promoting school safety.

"The conference is extremely important because it basically validates what we've been doing in our district over the last two years," Burrillville superintendent Dr. Frank Pallotta said.

Schools around the region have been proactive in creating a safe environment for students and staff. It has been a fluid process, constantly evolving and improving.

"The key thing is you have to do it in conjunction with your supporters. So it's done with the Providence police, the fire, Emergency Management Agency," said Andre Thibeault, the director of operations for Providence schools.

Communication is key among all parties involved. Police keep a constant presence in schools, blurring the lines of authority and becoming part of the school community.

"Police presence is important because the public sees that we are protecting our schools. We have the first responders right there in the event that something were to take place and essentially the people who want to commit these crimes see that they don't have that advantage," state police Sgt. Derek Borek said.

No one knows the devastating effects of school tragedies better than Michele Gay, a parent and former teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. She lost a child in the 2012 mass shooting and said authorities in Rhode Island are doing a good job protecting schools.

"Until people feel psychologically safe, until they feel vested in the process that they're a part of it, that it's not part of some secret plan up on a shelf in a red binder, that I think that's when the fear level starts to drop and the empowerment starts to rise," Gay said.

Johnson police asked anyone with information that may help their investigation into the threatening letters, no matter how small, to call them.

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