01/09/2014

Connecticut report outlines school security improvements

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In response to the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a Connecticut panel is recommending a number of new school safety standards for the state's public schools.

One suggestion that was included in the School Safety Infrastructure Council's report—to retrofit classroom doors with locks that can be used from both the inside and the outside, allowing teachers to lock down a classroom without opening the door when an intruder might be present—came from the involvement of the AFT's Newtown affiliates. Ron Chivinski, an AFT Connecticut vice president and a teacher at Newtown Middle School who served on the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, testified before the council.

Newtown Federation of Teachers President Tom Kuroski, who co-chairs the Newtown school district's security committee, also has testified before state commissions charged with developing recommendations related to school safety and gun violence prevention.

In addition to new locks, the School Safety Infrastructure Council recommended a number of other changes in how schools are designed or retrofitted, including surveillance of school perimeters, lighting and access control for parking areas, access control for roofs, and a communication system with mass notification capabilities, as well as additional training for staff at the building and district levels. (Read the council's report.)

The report is "very comprehensive in terms of its recommendations, both on personnel and on the structural level," Kuroski says. "Some of these can be done at very little cost to the district," while others likely will require some state funding to implement.

Currently, Connecticut has no uniform state requirements for school security. The issue has been left to local communities, which the report says has led to uneven and unpredictable security features at Connecticut schools.

Unrelated to the latest school safety recommendations, the Newtown schools recently received a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help with recovery efforts following the shooting. The money will go toward a variety of purposes, including services for students with post-traumatic stress, grief support for siblings and classmates of the slain children, tutoring for children whose academic performance has declined, additional security and additional nursing services. The district received a similar grant in May 2013 to help defray the initial cost of support services immediately following the massacre.

[Dan Gursky, Associated Press, Hartford Courant]

January 9, 2014