Task force debates school safety

Following the December shooting in Newtown, Conn., a state bipartisan task force is grappling with whether increasing armed security personnel at Connecticut public schools is necessary for ensuring student safety.

The Connecticut General Assembly first established the bipartisan task force on gun violence prevention and children’s safety in early January, and the group convened for an initial public hearing last Friday. The task force announced 17 proposals, which include installing panic buttons in classrooms and complying with National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre’s call to increase the presence of armed guards at local public schools.

Adam Joseph, director of communications for the state Senate Democrats, said members of his office were encouraged by the recent reintroduction of the assault weapons ban at the federal level as a means of improving school safety. He added that beyond federal policymaking, the state must take immediate action as well.

“We can’t wait for Congress to act on these issues,” Joseph said, citing the leadership of state Sens. Donald Williams and Martin Looney on gun violence prevention.

State Rep. Roland Lemar of New Haven said he hopes the task force’s upcoming conversations on school safety address urban violence, rather than simply responding to the Newtown shooting. He said he was open to improving security systems and increasing access to mental health services, but he added that he opposed a greater presence of armed guards at local public schools.

“I haven’t heard from a single teacher or administrator who feels like they need more guns in schools,” said Lemar, who has two children in New Haven public schools. “I don’t think their primary concern is that a person is going to show up at school with an AR-15. But the possession of illegal handguns and not obeying traffic laws — that’s the kind of the daily violence that takes the lives of children.”

Lemar said 30 New Haven residents have been victims of gun violence in the last two months alone.

Meg Staunton, co-founder of March for Change, an advocacy group which is planning a Valentine’s Day anti-gun march in Hartford, said her organization is “driven by concerned parents,” many of whom oppose the implementation of more armed guards in public schools.

“We don’t want our kids in a fear-driven culture,” said Staunton, a mother of two children in Fairfield public schools.

But Curtis Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council, said he saw no reason why schools should not fortify with armed guards immediately, likening such an initiative to how the federal government placed guards outside plane cockpits within a matter of days of the 9/11 hijacks. Lavarello added that schools should mandate crisis plans and training for faculty and staff as a low-cost method of improving safety, citing about 25 percent of schools nationwide that have not implemented such measures.

Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 said his conversations with parents have convinced him that a combination of gun violence prevention measures, increased access to mental health services and structural changes to schools, such as magnetic locks and ballistic glass, should be on the negotiating table at upcoming hearings.

But as the state government continues to accrue deficits, Lemar said cost remains a limitation to security improvements. The New Haven Independent reported that hiring an armed police officer for every state public school could cost more than $60 million if each of Connecticut’s 1,236 public schools were provided a budget of $50,000.

Hearings will continue Jan. 28 and run through Jan. 30, addressing the topics of gun safety and mental health.

Comments