(TNS) - Cape, Mass., students returned from winter break Monday to schools that had beefed up security and posted messages of reassurance for parents and guardians.
Nicholas Pasquarosa, one of two school resource officers at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in South Yarmouth, greeted students in full police uniform instead of the civilian clothing he often wears.
"The chief and I decided they'll be in uniform" from here on, Yarmouth police Deputy Chief Steven Xiarhos said.
"Being in uniform means they have all (their) gear with them at all times," Xiarhos said.
Bourne police did a walk-through of schools in their town during February vacation to familiarize themselves with the layouts, schools Superintendent Steven Lamarche said.
"I've asked principals to go around their buildings and make sure doors are secured," Lamarche said. During school break he sent an email to staff members asking them to review their emergency protocols, Lamarche said.
Nearly two weeks since the mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 students and staff members dead, school communities are in a state of "heightened awareness," Lamarche said. "Let's cross our t's and dot our i's."
Lamarche and other school officials said securing the safety of students was an ongoing effort involving continued staff training, student lockdown drills and updates of surveillance equipment.
Falmouth schools Superintendent Nancy R. Taylor posted a message on the school district website Monday that mentioned the presence of school resource officers at Falmouth High and Lawrence schools and the growing number of security cameras in the district schools.
"I've heard from a couple of parents," Taylor said. "The questions are obviously around safety. We're always looking to improve and upgrade."
Taylor also reached out to parents and guardians Sunday night with a message informing them of the availability of school counselors for students concerned about the Florida shooting.
"We want you to come back to school and feel safe," Taylor said.
"Safety is always on the top of our minds," Barnstable schools Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown said.
School officials meet regularly with police and fire department officials in an emergency planning group to discuss safety protocols, Mayo-Brown said.
The school district recently requested upgraded video surveillance systems as part of the district's capital improvement plan, she said.
School officials also focus on creating a positive learning environment as part of an effort to meet student needs and create welcoming and safe surroundings, Mayo-Brown said.
All students in grades K-8 are screened for social and emotional competencies, such as self-awareness and self-management skills, she said.
"Much of this work around school safety is developing this social-emotional component," she said.
"Some of this stuff is really basic," Pasquarosa said at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School. "Lock your door," he said.
The high school and Mattacheese Middle School in West Yarmouth both have full-time school resource officers while the elementary schools in Yarmouth do not, Xiarhos said.
Xiarhos also said the school resource officers have access to rifles and bulletproof helmets that would allow them to confront a school shooter armed with the types of weapons that terrorized Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a little over five years ago.
Pasquarosa said he submitted a proposal to the Yarmouth police chief to station reserve police officers at the schools to provide security.
"That costs money," Pasquarosa said. "I think it will be topic of discussion going forward."
Seven police departments, including two from Cape Cod — Barnstable and Brewster — have signed up for school security assessment training being hosted by the Yarmouth Police Department in April, Xiarhos said.
The trainer "has helped us form some of our future plans here at YPD," Xiarhos said.
For some Cape students, the Florida shootings seem far removed from their lives.
For others, the attack hit close to home.
"My son asked me the other day if it's going to happen to his school," said Andrea Willey, who recently moved from Nantucket to Yarmouth and has a 7-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter in the local schools.
"I feel safe," Willey's daughter, Timera Henry, said at Dennis-Yarmouth High School Monday afternoon.
Dustin Pineau, parent of a freshman at the high school and an eighth-grader at Mattacheese Middle School, said he was reassured by the presence of school resource officers at both schools.
"I think they've got a good handle on what's going on," Pineau said.
— Follow Cynthia McCormick on Twitter: @Cmccormickcct.
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