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Danbury parents call for secure schools

Updated 11:27 pm, Friday, January 4, 2013
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DANBURY -- The most vocal of the 300 parents gathered at the Broadview Middle School auditorium Thursday night to hear officials discuss school security want armed guards.

The parents, including 56 who signed a petition, have asked for armed guards in all city schools in the wake of the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School on Newtown Dec. 14 that killed 20 children and six staff members.

There are already armed police at the city's two middle schools and at Danbury High School, and the school district has just hired unarmed, private security guards for the district's 11 elementary schools for the rest of the year.

"The board will have to make a decision that is based on the best interests of the children, and they will get expert advice," Superintendent Sal Pascarella said about armed guards in the elementary schools.

He said he needed to examine the issue further before making any recommendation to the school board.

"This is a total city effort, to provide the most optimal safety network for our children,'' said Mayor Mark Boughton, who was joined by Police Chief Al Baker for the two-hour Board of Education workshop.

Boughton said there would be real logistical challenges to training enough police to put one in every school.

The district has safety advocates who support the police officers at the middle and high school, Boughton said, and the plan is to have one in each elementary school in the fall.

Julie Sanseverino said she started the petition Thursday night because she wanted the board to see how many people supported the idea of having armed guards in the schools.

She said she wasn't surprised to have so many names in such a short time.

Ralph Pietrafesa, the co-president of the City-Wide PTO, said the sense from the parents contacting him is that they want an armed guard in every elementary school.

"I just hope that the Board of Education really comes together for a solution that reflects what the parents (want)," he said Thursday night.

Baker said since the shooting, his department has been working with the schools. The two-way radios in each school have been tested, there are site reviews of each buildings under way and the police are working on lockdown drills with the staff.

"We don't want to create a fortress, but create a safe learning environment for our children," Baker said.

School board member Annrose Fluskey-Lattin, who is a teacher in New York state, said Danbury must do something about locks on classroom doors.

She said it's hard for a teacher to lock the door in a hurry, and that she wants to see better locks installed. School finance director Joseph Martino said he's investigating a new double-lock system and an ID card locking system.

Boughton said improvements in security will include short-term adjustments and long-term changes to the way things are done.

The district is planning to hire a company that will do an audit of the buildings to make recommendations about things like windows, doors, the use of cameras and other security devices, he said.

The city and school officials are looking at the latest best practices for keeping children safe in schools when there is an intruder, Pascarella said.

Besides the locks, the district is considering increasing cameras in schools, but immediately will make sure all existing security measures in place for visitors entering the building are followed, he said.

In addition, the district is looking at how to modify the open floor plan at the King Street Primary and Intermediate school, Pascarella said.

He said while most lockdown protocols call for students to stay in their classrooms, students in these schools have been trained to go to other closed areas because of the open setup, which has some parents and staff concerned about their safety.

"There are no easy answers,'' parent Lisa Simmonds said after the workshop. "There are a lot of different things to consider. There is no way you can predict everything. Everybody wants to keep the kids safe. We just have to figure out how to do it."

eileenf@newstimes.com; 203-731-3333