School safely panel hears testimony

Senator Toni Boucher

There is no simple answer to the question of how schools can become more secure, but there are many interesting and practical steps that can be taken. That was essentially the take-away from a public hearing on school safety co-chaired by state Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) on Friday, Jan. 25, at the Capitol in Hartford.

“The hearing went very well,” said Ms. Boucher, whose senate district covers Ridgefield. Her panel heard from police chiefs; school security guards; representatives of teachers, principals and school superintendents; and city and town officials.

In the afternoon, about 50 individuals offered their testimony.

Much of what was discussed, Ms. Boucher said, centered on “what could a school do in terms of infrastructure to protect the staff and children.” This included reinforcement of entrances, installation of security cameras and installation of reinforced glass.

Of the latter she said replacing every window with bulletproof glass may prove counterproductive because “the glass may be so heavy it can’t be lifted if you needed to escape.”

While the creation of the General Assembly’s Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety and the resultant hearings are directly related to the recent school shooting in Newtown, the panel also considered emergency situations of a different nature such as tornadoes or hurricanes or oil or gas spills.

“Do you hide, flee or confront?” Ms. Boucher asked. “Is there a proper procedure for all of that?”

What became apparent to her are the gaps that exist in security protocols. “There is no uniformity on what procedures should be and the level of security to be enforced,” she said.

Panic buttons

One of the ideas that interests Ms. Boucher is the use of emergency response buttons — essentially panic buttons — that can be placed in classrooms. She appreciated the idea that, while it is important to communicate information to teachers and students, “we want teachers in the classroom to be able to communicate out” in the event a crisis is taking place in their class.

The task force sub group also heard suggestions for inserting armed school resource officers or security guards in schools.

“They are allowed to have armed security guards,” Ms. Boucher said of state law. “You can also have an armed teacher, if the state wanted to allow that.”

She said the sentiment toward arming teachers was about “80-20 against,” primarily because of the high level of training that would be required.

The group will now consider what was presented and is expected to prepare its recommendations within the next few weeks. The legislature plans to pass a bill encompassing firearms restrictions, school safety and mental health issues by mid-February.

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