Community collaboration, not armed teachers, key to school safety
WEST HARTFORD — Community collaboration is key to making Connecticut’s schools safer and guns for teachers are not the answer, officials said Tuesday at a briefing on school security.
The briefing was held at the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents a day after 850 educators, first responders and local officials attended a statewide Connecticut School Security Symposium at Aqua Turf in Southington. The symposium was sponsored by the superintendent association, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, the Connecticut Association of Schools and the Connecticut Association of School Business Officials to give members of boards of education, superintendents, school business officials and fire and police personnel a comprehensive set of tools to address school safety in each district in the state.
“We put this together because as you may imagine, shortly after the shootings on Dec. 14 in Newtown, all of our organizations were getting questions for guidance and directions,” said Joe Cirasuolo, executive director of CAPSS. “There was a lot of concern about what to do now to make sure that what happened in Newtown doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
Symposium attendees heard presentations on anything from prevention and preparedness to response and recovery, and each came away with a different set of ideas for what may work in their districts, Cirasuolo said.
“There is no one-size-fixes-everything approach to this,” he said.
Putting an armed security officer in a school, for example, was something discussed at the forum, but there was a strong recommendation against arming teachers, he said.
“If you’re going to do something of that type, make sure it is a trained police officer, a police officer trained to work in schools,” Cirasuolo said they were told at the forum.
Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools, said guns in schools can be a big liability issue and there is no data supporting that arming faculty would prevent a tragedy. She instead suggested working with school resource officers and make sure they have a positive presence at the schools.
And just putting a trained police officer at the school is not going to solve the problem by itself, Cirasuolo said.
What you really need is good coordination between first responders and the school districts, said Bob Rader, executive director of CABE.
“There is no one profile — no one thing you have to look for (in a potential school shooter),” Rader said. “So it’s incumbent on all of us, especially within the school community, to develop the trust, to develop the confidence that people will talk to each other … about anything they might hear that could endanger safety.”
Niehoff said the whole community needs to be engaged to come up with both immediate and long-term solutions for increased school safety.
“We’ve got to start conversations … and we need to listen to students,” she said. “We need to have strategies in place for students so that they know if anything is of concern to them, they know where to go.”
A key component to addressing prevention is addressing mental health issues, and more resources need to be provided to address those issues, she said.
“The vast majority of people with mental health issues aren’t dangerous to anybody,” Cirasuolo said. “But there are kids who have a lot of problems. They need to be addressed. They needed to be addressed before Dec. 14, and they need to be addressed now.”
An architect at Monday’s symposium showed ideas how to make school buildings more secure, including installing a buzzer system and security cameras, locking doors and making sure there is a clear line of sight from all buildings, with hedges being no taller than 4 feet and branches hanging no lower than 8 feet off the ground.
Strong recommendations were made to have a security person involved in any renovation plans. Administrators were also encouraged to schedule regular walk-throughs with police and fire departments.
The entire program was coordinated with the U.S. Department of Education. The five agencies that sponsored the symposium is planning to conduct follow-up surveys to determine which of the topics covered require more information, and will then offer more programming in those areas.