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Parents Fight for Safety at Norwalk School

Some parents waiting to pick up children at Columbus Magnet School Thursday were worried about their students’ safety. One woman who sat in the line between the school and the King Kennedy Housing project said she was considering sending her child to All Saints Catholic School. "I don't want that stray bullet to hit my kid," she said.

The situation has caused some parents to take action. Ashlee Loughran hopes to deliver a petition Monday asking Mayor Richard Moccia, Police Chief Harry Rilling and Superintendent of Schools Susan Marks for immediate safety improvements, with the aim of making the school a closed campus.

Four of five parents who spoke to The Daily Norwalk Thursday expressed concerns about safety at the school . In the wake of the school year's second shooting nearby on May 17, they were wrestling with the idea of pulling their children out of what they say is a "fantastic school." "We think about it," said Annalisa Breisler. "We are talking about a Plan B."

"We're undecided," said Meagan Burns-Min, mother to a 9-year-old girl and a 6½-year-old boy. "Two weeks ago we were definitely leaving, and then we calmed down and breathed a little bit. And now we're unsure. My son wants to stay, but my daughter is scared."

Principal Emily Lopez said she knows these thoughts cross the mind of many parents. "I understand people who are thinking about it," she said. "But thinking about and deciding to actually do are two different things. ... If all of our parents weren't considering all of their options, I would be concerned about that."

But Lopez is taking it in stride. "People have to do what they feel comfortable with," she said. "I think that people choose Columbus because they feel comfortable with what happens inside of the building, and they have to weigh their options. I can tell you that I have had only one family who has requested discharge papers."

While it's possible there will be a drop in enrollment, she hasn't seen signs of that yet. "We had lots and lots of families who applied for the lottery in January–you can't miss what's been going on, it's in every paper–and have accepted since then and still showed up this morning as 'You know what, we're coming to school here.' "

Loughran's petition has only been circulated by email among parents of the school's 350 children, and lists 122 signatures. "It's a good start," she said. "Everybody I talk to is very passionate about this issue, and I think there's many more people who haven't gotten to sign the petition yet."

Requests include surveillance cameras in front and behind the school, a more secure fence and improved lighting. Lopez said the fence has been a concern. It's chain link, which is easily cut. There is a persistent hole allowing access from Mulvoy Street to Chestnut Street. Officer Mark Kucky, a common presence in the school yard, said he has fixed the hole only to find it cut open again.

Kucky stopped two people using the path Thursday afternoon. He turned them back because he hadn't seen them before, but he said one man tries it every day.

Like others, Loughran said taking her kids out has crossed her mind. "I think a lot of us are waiting to see what improvements can be made, but it's a fantastic school and that's why we're working hard to keep it as safe as we can, to keep the area as safe as we can for the children who live there as well," she said.

Natasha Demee, one of the parents in line Thursday, said she is keeping her third-grader in the school for another two years. "As long as we keep the police presence here I'm not concerned."

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