Danbury-area towns address public concern over increased security
In the years since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Danbury-area school districts joined a national push for increased security, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in safety upgrades for school buildings.
But in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting — the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook — communities have again focused on whether schools are doing enough to protect students and staff.
Nearly all Danbury-area districts have, or made plans to, review security during school board meetings since 17 people died during a Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Just this week, security was on the agenda for Danbury, New Milford and Region 9 school board meetings. Brookfield and Bethel addressed it last week and New Fairfield and Ridgefield will do so in upcoming meetings.
The Region 9 meeting, which drew a crowd of more than 200, was specifically scheduled to discuss safety after a dozen people raised security questions during a school board meeting last week.
At the forum, as in many school safety discussions, the conversation focused on how both physical security measures and a supportive environment can prevent a crisis.
“We are mindful of the simple question of, ‘What are you doing to make the building safe?’ ” Superintendent Thomas McMorran said. “But as educators, we know the things we’re trying to do to to build a community in which no child comes to feel completely isolated and victimized by everyone else.”
McMorran outlined the safety measures the district has put in place since Sandy Hook, such as additional cameras, protective window lining, motion detectors and buzz-in devices at school entrances.
He also reviewed how staff works to make the district “socially safe,” using student-intervention teams, crisis-response teams and efforts by guidance staff to help troubled students before they consider resorting to violence.
Other school districts have invited police to take part in school security discussions since the Florida massacre.
In an open letter to the community last week, Danbury Superintendent Sal Pascarella said he invited police commanders to meet with principals to discuss the Parkland shooting, review safety procedures and determine whether any adjustments or added training is necessary.
Members of the New Milford Police Department joined administrators and the Board of Education on Tuesday to discuss safety protocols in executive session. The school board then distributed a security overview to the public during its regular meeting immediately afterward.
The review comes after two students were arrested at New Milford High School this week, one for a small fire set in a bathroom and another for threatening a teacher.
School officials and the police department plan to hold a forum on the district’s safety, administrators said, but a date has not yet been set.
“We’re entering a whole new realm of school security,” Board of Education Chairman David Lawson said.
In Ridgefield, Superintendent Karen Baldwin sent a letter reviewing safety protocols and said the Board of Education will invite Police Chief John Roche and Robert Miller, who oversees security in the district, to its March 27 meeting to discuss procedures.
New Fairfield’s community outreach subcommittee will discuss school security at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Most of the two dozen who spoke at the Region 9 meeting called for security improvements, such as installing metal detectors or locking school entrances throughout the day. But the most popular request was for an armed school resource officer at Joel Barlow High School.
The high school has three security guards, adminstrators said, but does not have an officer licensed to carry a firearm, as the middle and elementary schools do.
“I don’t see why every school in our system has an SRO officer and my school doesn’t,” one high school senior said at the forum. “So I guess my question is, ‘Are the high schoolers’ lives less valuable than the middle school and elementary schools?”
Several speakers expressed concern about introducing an armed officer into the school. But when one speaker asked those who favor the idea to raise their hands, nearly everyone in the crowd did.
School board members and town officials at the forum briefly discussed how they could add the position.
“I think most board members would strongly consider adding an SRO, but the stumbling block becomes who’s going to fund it,” Region 9 Chairman Mike D’Agostino said.