Officials say more safety measures needed [CT Post]

January 28, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post on 1/28/2013

HARTFORD — State lawmakers planning future school safety procedures will have to decide whether armed police or security guards should be stationed in all schools.

State officials and private citizens repeatedly addressed the armed guard issue Friday during a daylong public hearing on school security held by a legislative subcommittee.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a former member of the General Assembly, said putting cops in every school could be a local budget buster, but that’s the request he’s getting from parents.

“I’m not going to sit here and argue that a school resource officer is needed in every building,” Boughton told the bipartisan committee in the Legislative Office Building.

“That’s the pressure we’re getting. We have to have an answer why that’s a good idea or a bad idea. School resource officers are great, but I don’t know how practical it is.”

Boughton said it’s ultimately up to the Legislature to decide whether to order police or to develop a cadre of lesser-paid security personnel trained only in school-related safety and security issues.

With mandatory vacations and other time off, a single officer in a school would require at least another half-time position. It could also take five years to station police at all schools because of the few openings in training classes, Boughton said.

Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said he’s not convinced armed officers on school grounds can stop future shootings such as the one that left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last month.

“School resource officers are individuals that can’t cover an entire school,” said Fleischmann, noting there were armed guards at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., during the 1999 shooting and at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., in 2007.

Thomas Kuroski, president of the Newtown Federation of Teachers, said teachers in his town are still scared for themselves and their students.

“All of a sudden, teachers didn’t feel we were teaching in a safe environment,” Kuroski said, describing the days after the Dec. 14 massacre.

“Many of us no longer felt capable of taking charge of students,” he said. “For some of us, when we returned to our schools and classrooms, we felt insecure about doing our most sacred duty: teaching and nurturing our students while keeping them safe.”

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told the committee that even while the Legislature works on a systemic response to school security needs, his agency is providing technical assistance to schools and first responders who want to make changes now.

“A theme that cut across these different topics was the notion that even as we work to fortify our schools, we must not turn them into fortresses,” Pryor said.

“How might we fortify the school environment without creating impenetrable for tresses that are not conducive to learning, but nonetheless, are safe and secure? Those are critical questions for us.”

Pryor said that nationally, 1 in 7 students will get into a fight in school and 1 in 13 will be threatened or injured by a weapon.

“We must also prevent a tragedy like we saw in Newtown from ever happening again,” Pryor said.

Other scenarios must also be considered.

“We cannot simply look at this tragedy and plan for that in the future,” said Patrice McCarthy, a former school principal who is deputy director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.

The next life-threatening emergency can be entirely different, she said.

“This has become a priority not just in Connecticut, but around the country,” McCarthy told members of a legislative subcommittee on school security.

She said Sandy Hook Elementary School teachers and administrators did what they were trained to do when Adam Lanza blasted his way into their building.

“Obviously, this tragedy has caused every district to re-examine what they already have in place and obtain additional community input as to what their parents feel will make their students safe and secure,” McCarthy said.

Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools, said that arming teachers is unacceptable, but trained school resource officers can be crucial to school safety.

During the public portion of the meeting, which started at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 5:45 p.m., several people suggested the need for more school prayer.

Leonard Benedetto, vice president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said training and arming faculty members is the best way to reduce the threat of a future school shooting.

The legislative subcommittee is one of three panels looking at the key areas of gun control, mental health and school safety. The entire committee will hold a public hearing Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Newtown High School.

“When a parent sends their child to school, they expect them to be safe,” said Sen. Antonietta Boucher, R-Wilton, co-chairwoman of the subcommittee.