Another Connecticut town has joined massacre-ravaged Newtown with the supposed nut cases of the National Rifle Association on the school security issue. Like Newtown, Enfield has decided to place armed guards at all its schools, at a cost estimated at $650,000 per year.
While Newtown understandably was almost unanimous about the armed guards, Enfield was closely divided, both in public sentiment and in the Board of Education’s vote, only 5-4 in favor.
Indeed, school shouldn’t be either a fearful armed camp or prison but a place of happiness and learning. But amid the country’s social disintegration those days are long gone. Is it just coincidence that the craze in movies and literature is now vicious zombies and vampires, portraying a world where there can be no trust in humanity, where one can be swooped down upon by predators at any moment?
Such fears are not entirely paranoia but the controversy over armed guards in schools is overdone. For as the country’s social disintegration worsened, long before the massacre in Newtown many if not most high schools already had installed police to maintain order, though such police have been euphemized as “school resource officers” to gloss over the real problem — not assault by outsiders as in Newtown but by incorrigible students within.
Manchester’s schools, long full of such students and the disturbances they cause, have purported to solve the embarrassing publicity problem of their arrests simply by no longer arresting them but rather removing them and surrounding them with social workers, a policy that may work insofar as it evokes the scene in Woody Allen’s old film “Take the Money and Run” where the worst discipline in prison is to be locked in “the hole” with an insurance salesman.
Even as so many public officials are wringing their hands over school security, the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is pressing the General Assembly to enact legislation exempting teachers from any discipline for declining to break up fights at school.
The Connecticut Law Tribune reports that courts around the country are full of lawsuits by teachers seeking compensation for injuries suffered while trying to subdue violent students or to protect students or themselves against such attacks. A lawyer for the CEA, Christopher Hankins, says schools should have special “response teams” trained in breaking up fights. Hankins says hundreds of Connecticut teachers who have broken up fights in the last decade have been investigated by the state Department of Children and Families when a perpetrator trying to exonerate himself has claimed that excessive force was used against him or that a teacher restraining him touched him inappropriately.
The day is approaching when every student in some schools will have his own “school resource officer” and social worker, neatly substituting for the parents he never had. Whoever will be to blame for this, it won’t be the NRA.
* * *
The Washington Monument Syndrome is in full force not only amid the budget “sequestration” in the federal government, where necessities like air traffic control are being reduced while stupid imperial wars continue unquestioned, but also in state and municipal government in Connecticut.
Pleading lack of money even as their budgets increase, school systems keep proposing to eliminate things like music, sports, and instruction for the “gifted” — the euphemism for students who can perform at grade level because they have parents.
But there is no lack of money here, just a lack of priorities. Manchester is typical. Its school superintendent is proposing $2.4 million in program cuts while paying $3.7 million in salary and benefit increases to school staff. If, amid hard times, staff compensation, already generous, could be frozen, services to students could be maintained. But serving students long ago ceased to be the primary objective of education in Connecticut.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.