After gun magazine clip discovery, Medford School Committee discusses school security, closes school today

McGlynn Middle School in Medford, MA is pictured. Courtesy Google Maps

A gun magazine clip found in an auditorium at the McGlynn Elementary and Middle School in Medford went unreported to the police by Medford Superintendent of Schools Roy Belson for close to seven weeks, according to a story in the Medford TranscriptA cleaning company discovered the clip, containing three or four bullets, under a seat at the back of the school auditorium on Dec. 29, according to a Feb. 20 statement on the City of Medford’s website by Belson.

The statement says the cleaning company turned the clip over to the in-house custodian, who locked it in McGlynn Middle School Principal Jake Edwards’ office.

 According to the statement, Edwards may have thrown away the clip.

“Jake Edwards was in his office on December 30, 2017, for the purpose of cleaning his office and he claims he threw several items away that could have included the clip,” the statement says.

The statement also said that while Superintendent Belson and the School Resource Officer were notified shortly after the incident took place, neither of them informed the police. Resulting from this incident, Belson’s office put Edwards on paid administrative leave, according to a statement delivered by Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke at a Feb. 22 press conference.

According to the Medford Transcript, police first heard about the incident from an uninvolved third party, not the school administration, but found nothing to investigate. Police were first informed when concerned school employees contacted Medford City Councillor Breanna Lungo-Koehn, who reported the incident to the police herself, including a photograph of the loaded clip, the Medford Transcript reported. 

Medford Public Schools will be closed today “to work with faculty to review the district’s safety and security policy,” according to a statement released by the district.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, the Medford School Committee — which is chaired by Burke — and Medford Chief of Police Leo Sacco, heldCommittee of the Whole meeting in the Medford High School theater to discuss security measures and policies for Medford public schools. The meeting lasted a total of five hours.

After opening comments from Burke, Sacco commented on the ongoing investigation into the security threat.

“The goal [of this investigation] is to go backwards with the hope of finding the individual who actually owns the magazine clip,” Sacco said. “[Police are] hoping for someone to come forward and we’re talking to all people who may have had access to that auditorium … during that time period.”

Sacco also said he hoped that someone licensed to carry a weapon had accidentally dropped the clip.

“We’re hoping that it’s something as simple as that and not something as serious as some malicious intent to use that for bad reasons,” he said.

On Feb. 20, police from Medford and surrounding towns brought in K9 teams to sweep the McGlynn Middle School, Sacco said. On Feb. 22, 17 teams searched every school in the city, he said. However, they found nothing.

According to Burke, former Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley will conduct an independent investigation into the matter as the police investigation moves forward.

Lungo-Koehn took the microphone ten minutes after the start of the meeting, criticizing Mayor Burke and the Committee in general for allowing Belson, who had failed to report that the clip had been found, to sit at the meeting.

“I don’t know how you start to [restore public confidence] by allowing Mr. Belson to [sit here],” she said.

Her statement was met with applause and calls from the audience for Belson to resign. This sentiment was reiterated both before and after the committee invited participation from the audience.

Belson, who remained silent during the first portion of the event, stressed that he took responsibility for the delay in action.

“I want to make it clear [that] … responsibility for reporting belongs to me and [Principal Edwards]. The decision was made … based on a community view of what needs to be done,” Belson said, emphasizing that the decision was a mistake.

Medford Vocational High School student asked Belson what he would do if his child attended McGlynn. Belson said that tragedy in Medford schools was rare and emphasized that this incident occurred while students were on winter break.

“This was a situation that took place when schools were out,” Belson said. “I thought that rather than raise anxiety about it at that point in time, [we should] pursue it on our own. But you know what? I made a mistake.”

Belson stated that increasing anxiety of students was not his intention, but that it is important for school communities to move on.

“I thought I was doing the right thing … but I made a mistake… the key idea is to make schools conducive to learning,” he said.

“I’ve learned a valuable lesson…but let’s not bash everything that goes on because I made a mistake. I accept that responsibility, he added.

Belson also stressed that parents’ concerns for safety and suggestions for improvement would be addressed.

“I know that this school committee, this mayor, this police department are going to insist on increased security, increased measures—they will take your best ideas and work on them.” he said.

Responding to a question concerning two fifth grade Medford students who allegedly threatened to shoot the school, Belson said “No community is immune to bad behavior,” adding that police were notified and concluded that whether the students meant what they said was unclear.

Parents were skeptical of Belson’s claim to responsibility. Rose Poto Gifford, a Medford parent who attended the forum with one child at Medford High School and one at Andrews Middle School, was disappointed with Belson‘s attitude.

“[Belson] is so laid back about this … For two months, children were in [McGlynn Middle School] when there could have been the gun that belonged to that clip somewhere in that school,” she said in an interview with the Daily.

Gifford also called for Belson’s resignation.

During the forum, several parents also voiced concern about the School Committee’s lack of disciplinary action against Belson.

Mea Quinn Mustone, vice chairperson of the Medford School Committee, said toward the end of the forum that the Committee has discussed possibly calling an additional meeting to discuss consequences for Belson. She said that for personnel issues, the Committee goes into an executive session for 48 hours, which gives the employee time to hire a lawyer.

“It’s hard because I feel parents need immediate action, but because of School Committee regulations and open meeting law, there is a process which I know is frustrating,” Mustone said.

Mustone also stated that the Committee itself played no role in putting Edwards on administrative leave, citing the fact that principals are not directly under the purview of the School Committee.

Throughout the event, parents said that they felt they were not notified through the proper channels.

Michelle Wayland, another parent whose children go to Medford High School and McGlynn Elementary School, said in an interview that she was notified about the incident through a text message from a neighbor.

“I was furious,” Wayland said.

Gifford, who said she found out about the incident on the Medford Moms Facebook page, suggested that Medford schools use a reverse 911 line in the future to alert parents, echoing the sentiment of many audience members who participated.

“I think if we can get [frequent calls] to tell us ‘Coffee with the councilors is next Tuesday’ and ‘Don’t forget Monday’s a holiday’…then they can do a reverse call like that for [this incident],” Gifford said. “I just can’t wrap my head around the way this entire thing was handled.”

Mustone stated that as a response to parents’ anxiety for student safety, the School Committee has implemented new measures to ensure the safety of students at school, spending “$200,000 to have [school security cameras] up to date” as well as “checking the doors.”

Mustone added that she was sickened by the incident.

“My heart really broke for [the people at the forum] that they were so sick from thinking about what could happen at our own schools,” Mustone said.

During the forum, the possible implementation of Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate (ALICE) training in Medford as a response to active shooters was also discussed. Sharla Randazzo, an educator and advocate for ALICE who participated in the forum, spoke of the training as the preferred option to the traditional lockdown.

According to Randazzo, most school districts use ALICE trainings. According to the ALICE website, 4,200 school districts use the training.

Randazzo also said the ALICE model is based on responses to previous active shootings, adding that police departments learned the lockdown method was not actually the best practice.

“That’s how people were dying, [because] they were stuck in these rooms with no escape route and then were not fighting back if they were actually coming into contact with the shooter,” she explained.

Instead, ALICE teaches people how to evaluate a crisis situation and determine where a shooter is in the building, according to Randazzo. She went on to say that part of ALICE’s response to active shooter situations includes allowing teachers to buy time until police arrive in an active shooter situation.

“It takes four minutes for [police] to get to the school once they’ve gotten the call, so … the people inside the school have those four minutes to figure out how to protect themselves,” she said.

Randazzo expressed hope that Medford would adopt ALICE, saying that, by continuing the traditional lockdown method, the city is years behind.