Group Submits School Safety Report

February 28, 2013

Over the past few weeks, the legislature has been busy holding meetings and public hearings in Hartford and Newtown to gather input from members of the public, law enforcement and experts in the fields of school safety, gun violence prevention and mental health. Last week, the school safety working group reached a consensus on several recommendations to help improve safety measures and encourage a positive learning environment.

As a member of the bipartisan task force, I would like to share some of these recommendations with you this week. The working group came to a consensus on four different areas, including school infrastructure, personnel, emergency plans and best practices. These recommendations, or consensus items, will be submitted to legislative leadership and considered for future action.

First, the group focused on how infrastructure could improve school safety. One recommendation included requiring school districts that apply for state grants for new construction and renovation projects to meet a certain standard for security infrastructure in their schools. Another would allocate additional funding for school districts to apply for grants to fund other projects to improve the security infrastructure.

The group also suggested expanding the projects eligible for school construction grants to include reinforced entryway with ballistic glass, double door access, penetration resistant vestibule with computer-controlled electronic locks, remote locks on all entrances and exits and a buzzer system, classroom doors with computer-controlled electronic locks, cameras around the school and at entrances and exits, mobile emergency response buttons for designated school personnel, solid core doors with ballistic glass and other security improvements.

Second, the group also focused on personnel, including school resource officers and mental health professionals. It agreed that school districts should provide intensive, individualized intervention for the most high risk students who have exhibited violent tendencies and require follow up meetings with the individuals. It also suggested that the state Department of Education provide technical assistance to school districts regarding behavioral intervention specialists in public and private schools.

Third, the group focused on emergency planning by recommending the clarification of current state law to develop school district safety plans or use a model plan from the state. This plan would be submitted to the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and would require involvement from local first responders and the implementation of a command center. Police departments would review crisis drills and report on any improvements that can be made.

Fourth, the group recommended developing best practices to improve school safety. It suggested that the state Department of Education review anti-bullying programs and submit a report to the General Assembly. The agency should also provide links to “Safe School Climate Plans” that are currently available. It also recommended developing a crisis management plan and violence prevention training for school employees such as professional development and certificate programs and establishing qualifications to make sure that school security officials are properly trained and have related expertise

Additional items were also discussed, but the task force did not reach consensus on these measures because there would not be sustainable state funding. During the debate in our last meeting, I raised concerns over how the state will pay for these improvements when our budget deficit is on track to hit over $1 billion in the next fiscal year. While these recommendations will likely continue to be revised in the coming weeks, this is the initial framework that was developed to make our schools a safer and more secure learning environment.