Connecticut Legislators Calling for Tougher Penalties for Threats Against Schools

March 20, 2015

Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28) speaks in support of SB 1108, The Zero-Tolerance Safe School Environment Act, during a press conference at the Legislative Office Building on March 20, 2015. Sen. Hwang was joined by, from left, state Rep. J.P. Sredzinski (R-112), Newtown Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Erardi, St. Rose of Lima School parent Bernard Reidy, Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe, Reidy’s wife Maureen, state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky (R-106 ), state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), and state Rep. Cristin McCarthy-Vahey (D-133).

Senator Hwang leads effort with support from education advocates and public safety officials

With support from education advocates and public safety officials, state Sen. Tony Hwang (R-28) is leading an effort in Connecticut to increase the penalties for threats of violence against schools.

The proposal, The Zero-Tolerance Safe School Environment Act, was the subject Friday of a public hearing before the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee. Ahead of that hearing, Sen. Hwang held a press conference at the Legislative Office Building to raise awareness about and support for the proposed bill, SB 1108. He was joined by Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe, Newtown Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Erardi, St. Rose of Lima School parent Bernard Reidy, and fellow legislators.

“There is absolutely nothing funny about making a threat against a school. That message needs to be heard loud and clear,” Senator Hwang said. “The Zero-Tolerance Safe School Environment Act will deliver that message and, in the process, reinforce that Connecticut is serious about ensuring the safety and well-being of all of our children.”

Under the proposal, a new subsection pertaining specifically to threats targeting schools would be created under the state’s existing threatening statutes, and the penalties for first-degree threatening would be increased to a Class C felony (it’s currently a Class D felony) and second-degree threatening would become a Class D felony (it’s currently a Class A misdemeanor).

“I have reviewed the proposed zero tolerance legislation and I applaud Senator Hwang’s effort,” Superintendent Erardi said. “His proposal sends a direct and clear message to all that the disruption of a school day, especially to a community such as Newtown, is a serious crime with serious consequences,”

“As a parent living in Sandy Hook, I am angered and outraged that as a community we continue to be targeted by individuals who choose to threaten our children while they attend school. I have witnessed firsthand the emotional and psychological impact from these heinous threats of violence,” Mr. Reidy said. “Connecticut’s existing state law does not explicitly single out threats to schools as a crime. Threats and acts of violence toward our schools across our state and country have become an epidemic! It is time that our laws are improved and penalties stiffened, to specifically protect our children while attending school. We must adopt a zero tolerance to violence against our schools, its teachers and our children.”

“While it appears Newtown has been a target of these shameful criminal acts, with seven threats levied against our schools since the 12/14 tragedy, I want to emphasize that this is not just a Newtown issue,” Sen. Hwang said. “The sad truth is that communities across Connecticut and the nation are also dealing with this very troubling reality. These threats are unacceptable, and it’s time we demonstrate that they will not be tolerated.”

Here are just some school threats that made the news in Connecticut in 2014:

“This legislation is important!” Chief Kehoe said. “Schools are places of learning and in many places they are more than that. With the correct educational environment, students learn and teachers teach. That can’t happen if students and staff are worried about their personal safety or school safety.”

“The fact is,” Chief Kehoe added, “today we are more worried about personal safety, especially in educational settings due to an uptick in school violence and shootings and the attention they get. The mere mention of violence being perpetrated at school is highly disruptive and emotionally damaging. Therefore this legislation is important to protect the educational learning atmosphere and environment.”

“I am thankful to Chief Kehoe, Superintendent Erardi and Mr. Reidy for taking the time to articulate their support. These gentlemen know full well just how damaging these threats can be, and it’s because of constituents like them and so many others who we’ve heard from that we felt compelled to take action,” Sen. Hwang said.

WATCH: Education and public safety officials join Senator Hwang for a press conference to raise awareness about the impact of school threats and to support The Zero-Tolerance School Environment Act: