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The FBI has issued an alert to all local police chiefs and have alerted schools to be vigilant and ensure proper security measures are in place, according to the head of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents.
Most schools these days have security features, from cameras to intercoms, where staff can speak to visitors without even opening the door.
“When I try to go to the school they don’t let me in,” said John Fraher, the parent of a student in Lowell, Massachusetts.
That level of caution helped prevent three unidentified people from entering two school buildings in the city without a legitimate reason on Tuesday. It’s one of several similar incidents at Massachusetts school districts recently, which prompted the FBI’s joint terrorism task force to call Tom Scott, the head of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents on Friday.
In the incidents, men with similar profiles were intercepted either attempting to get into schools and in one instance actually entering a school building late in the day and taking pictures, according to Scott. He said in each event, when confronted, the individuals had no good reason for his presence. One claimed he was with Verizon, but the company said they had no one scheduled to be there, and another said he was trying to get into the building in order to charge his phone.
After he made districts aware of concerning encounters shared by the FBI, several superintendents reported to him similar incidents, Scott said.
“These are individuals that are giving false information to school authorities about why they were present on the school campus,” he said in an email.
In Woburn earlier this month, school staff reported a man who attempted to enter Goodyear Elementary School, saying he needed to charge his cellphone.
In a letter to parents on Thursday, the Woburn schools superintendent reassured them that various security measures are in place, including an ID system for all visitors, security cameras, school resource officers and safety trainings.
Lowell police provided extra patrols at schools on Thursday after those men were denied entry and reported to law enforcement. The unwanted visitors left the area without incident.
“It’s scary to know that your child is in there and trying to get in, but they are doing a good job,” Lowell parent Adriana Veiga said.
Lowell Public Schools said all buildings are locked and visitors must be buzzed in by staff, through a doorbell that is equipped with video surveillance. The district requires proper identification and a legitimate reason to enter any school building. They said they had been made aware of similar incidents in other districts throughout the state, and as a result, they were being extra diligent with door safety protocols.
“Three unauthorized individuals were denied entry at two schools by school staff members who followed established protocol. We take these incidents very seriously and immediately reported them to the Lowell Police Department, which is actively investigating these matters while increasing patrols of the schools,” the district wrote in a letter to parents on Tuesday.
Scott said the FBI has issued an alert to all local police chiefs and have alerted schools to be vigilant and ensure proper security measures are in place. And while the motives of the unauthorized would-be entrants remain unclear, it’s important to err on the side of caution.
The FBI doesn’t “comment on specific intelligence products,” a spokeswoman told NBC10 Boston in an email, though she noted the FBI does routinely share information “to assist law enforcement in protecting the communities they serve” and urged the public to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to police.
Tom LeBlanc, who sits on the advisory council of school safety guidance nonprofit The Partner Alliance for Safer Schools, said school safety is a “relentless issue across the country.”
He said keeping doors locked is one “obvious” method of maintaining safety: “It sounds so simple. But those of us that have kids that, you know, maybe have to go drop something off at school in the middle of the day, we know that some schools are better at it than others.”
Needham schools said they recently experienced a similar incident, but the individual was identified as a local resident who works for a business in town and it was not related to the incidents the FBI is referring to.
“He was spoken to about walking through the school during OFF HOURS when school was NOT IN SESSION,” the district said in a statement.