New Milford addresses school safety concerns
NEW MILFORD — The superintendent of schools and members of the police department addressed the community’s school safety concerns at a forum Monday, sharing what measures are already in place and discussing what else can be done.
The crowd of 50 people included teachers and students, but was mostly made up of parents.
Many of the questions were connected to what happened at the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and what New Milford was doing to prevent something similar from occurring in town. This included the number of doors open at the beginning and end of the day, fire drills and protocols for what to do if something happened while students are outside.
Police Chief Shawn Boyne assured the audience that New Milford
responds differently than the “collective entrance” the sheriff’s office in Florida used, where officers assemble in a group before entering. The department has been criticized for waiting to enter the building.
In New Milford, officers are trained for an immediate response where the first to come engages the threat.
“We’re a small department, so we don’t have time for a collective entrance,” he said. “We have a good, confident, qualified response. We train, train, train.”
All of the students and teachers also train for what to do in a shooting, though some parents said the drills should be done more often.
Boyne said police departments across the state are wrapping up updates to their protocols based on a statewide plan to ensure all are familiar with the procedures and can assist another department if needed.
Once the state’s document is completed, it will be used to help update New Milford’s plan, which is being revised.
Another challenge is funding. The district has spent about $750,000 on school safety, budgeting an annual $18,000 to update or add cameras. Some of the measures, including panic buttons at all of the schools and blinds or covers for every first-floor window, were paid for using a competitive state grant for school security, which was discontinued in 2016.
“It’s now solely on the taxpayer,” Superintendent of Schools Joshua Smith said.
Some parents suggested the schools ask voters to approve funding or use the landfill settlement fund to fully secure the buildings. They talked of measures like placing a shatter-resistant film on all of the first- floor windows and doors.
“These are options that aren’t available until there’s a public outcry,” Boyne said. “Maybe it’s time to start crying out.”
He said it costs about $300,000 for the three school resource officers in place now.
Boyne said the best tool is awareness and training staff and students. He said all of the safety guards in place will be useless if a person props a door open with a rock.
Smith and Boyne said they take every threat seriously and then use a variety of measures to determine the viability, such as speaking with the parents and student who made the threat, assessing how the threat was made and if it’s happened before.
Another critical part of school safety is mental health training and helping students in crisis.