NEW HAMPTON — To ensure greater security for its students and the community, the private New Hampton School has posted the perimeter of its property, begun screening visitors to the campus and contracted for a full-time security officer — all measures that have stirred a lively debate among friends, alumni and neighbors of the school.
Rep. Ruth Gulick, whose husband Peter taught at the preparatory school for two decades, lit the spark after reading an announcement of the measures posted by school officials in the town's on-line newsletter. The notice said that 15 "private property" signs would be placed on the perimeter of the campus, explaining that "it is in the best interest of New Hampton School community members that all visitors to campus have permission to be on school property." In addition the school partnered with the New Hampton Police Department to engage Officer Bill Melanson, who most recently served as a security officer at Plymouth State University, as a full-time school resource officer, charged with "ensuring that all visitors to campus have an appropriate purpose for being on school property."
Taking to her Facebook page, Gulick called the policy "a monument to paranoia" that "undoes the years of town-gown friendship and cooperation. We get to pick up the difference in your not paying your full share of property taxes," she closed, "and you cower from us?"
"I was outraged," Gulick said yesterday, while adding "sometimes I worry about my righteous indignation."
Gulick was quickly echoed by some who shared her ire. One alum who sometimes visits the school when shuttling between Massachusetts and Vermont found the "fascist and xenophobic tone" of the announcement "a slap in the face." Another declared "I will walk on that campus whenever I please. Let Barney Fife find me." One woman asked "are people going to be fined?"
Others were more philosophical. "Gone are the days when you can invite 150 of your closest classmates to your house for a party without consequences," one man remarked. "It is 2013 where the NHS faculty and administration have to be proactive and think of the realities that have happened in the recent past to protect all the current members of NHS." A woman who enjoyed visiting the campus noted that St. Paul's School in Concord has taken similar steps to secure its campus and struck a common theme by characterizing the situation as a "sad statement/reflection of the kind of times we live in."
In the school's defense, Jennifer Berry, director of college counseling, referred directly to "Ruthie" and wrote, "I am saddened by the comments from many of you, because you remain important members of the New Hampton community and are absolutely welcome." At the same time, she reminded the critics of "the legal and moral responsibility to be vigilant in protecting the safety of all those living, learning and working on the campus."
Jon Shackett, a science teacher, contended that the security measures are more "proactive than paranoid." He added that public schools in the state and region took similar steps years ago. He invited Gulick to stroll on the campus whenever she liked, advising her that if she was harassed "tell them you are visiting me."
The campus of New Hampton School covers 340 acres on the north side of Main Street (Rte. 132) and houses 246 of its 305 students from 24 countries and 20 states as boarders.