Half of Connecticut’s public schools will receive money to upgrade their security infrastructure, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced last week.
Malloy said that the state would contribute an additional $6 million to a $15 million pledge it made earlier in the year to bolster public school security following the shooting in Newtown, Conn. The grants, outlined in the Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety Act that passed in April, aim to promote security improvements such as adding bulletproof glass, keycard systems and safe rooms.
Samaia Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the Governor, said this first $21 million wave of funding is meant for schools with little to no security infrastructure already in place, describing them as “the neediest schools.”
All 604 schools from 111 school districts that applied for grants will receive funding in the form of reimbursements for completed or ongoing security upgrades. Private schools and vocational-technical schools were not eligible for grants.
The 13 New Haven public schools that applied will receive a combined $1.8 million for security improvements through combined state and municipal grants, an amount surpassed only by Milford public schools’ $2.8 million, according to information provided by the Governor’s office.
To qualify for funding, districts must cover 20 to 80 percent of the upgrade costs themselves, depending on their wealth and number of need-based students. New Haven will pay for 27 percent of its costs through municipal funds, with funding from the state at $1.4 million.
According to Scott DeVico, spokesman for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, the legislature appropriated $15 million in grants but Gov. Malloy committed to finding an additional $6 million after demands for funds exceeded the amount allotted for security upgrades.
Ultimately, the $6 million came from the Urban Act, a bond assistance program administered by the Office of Policy and Management that covers grants ranging from economic development projects to non-profit organizations, said Gian-Carl Casa, the undersecretary of legislative affairs at OPM.
Casa said the legislature will likely expand the School Security Grant Program to cover the additional $6 million, explaining that the Urban Act grant money could then be used to fund other state initiatives.
The School Infrastructure Council, set up by the legislature to draft and implement new safety guidelines, will release standards on Jan. 1 based on a four-part approach to security called “Deterrence, Detection, Delay, and Response.” According to Jeffrey Beckham, spokesman for council chairman Donald DeFronzo, future requests for funding will likely need to comply with these new standards.
DeVico said the most common security improvements implemented over the past year have been the addition of door locks, buzzer systems and camera systems to school buildings. Funding covers infrastructure improvements made since Jan. 1, 2004 and the cost of training hired personnel on using new systems. However, funds cannot be used to hire security guards.
Yale Psychology Professor Alan Kazdin, who specializes in child psychiatry, said infrastructure improvements could be more effective than having armed guards in schools.
“Making schools actually safer without making [them] appear dangerous is really the challenge,” Kazdin said. “You don’t want to have too many cues that make students, especially children, feel uncomfortable.”
After the Sandy Hook shootings, New Haven Public Schools repaired security systems, started a program connecting 10 local police officers to 30 grade schools, and began adding keycard systems for exterior entry to internal doors, according to a legislative summary of school security improvements published in June 2013.
Last March, New Haven Public Schools Chief Operating Officer William Clark projected in an interview with the News that retrofitting older schools with systems found in new schools, including panic buttons and keycard entry systems, would cost over $1 million.
According to Abbe Smith, communications director for NHPS, New Haven has built or rehabilitated 37 schools since 1995.
“New Haven has been ahead of the curve in installing state-of-the-art security measures in schools, like cameras and buzzer systems at entryways,” she wrote in an e-mail. “With the new grant, we will be able to build from the strong security foundation we have in place.”
Smith added the grant will allow NHPS to improve its 911 emergency response connectivity, expand keycard access and upgrade its camera systems.
Joyce Wang ’17, who works in New Haven public schools as a Community Health Educator, cast doubt upon the idea that state-of-the-art security infrastructure would be adequate to protect children from harm. She said that at one school she visited last week, she saw kids line up for metal detector inspections but noted that no one asked to see her ID when she entered through another door.
There are 1,230 public schools in Connecticut, 46 in New Haven.