Legislation changes affect Connecticut school security

New laws passed during the latest session of the state Legislature have area school leaders poised to amend their policies to meet new directives.

New gun laws, passed in the wake of the mass shooting at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, have more policy implications than others, according to Vincent Mustaro, policy expert for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.

"What came out of the aftermath of Newtown are a number of changes in policies pertaining to safety and security that will need updating," he said.

Mustaro is completing an analysis of the new laws and will propose related policy changes at the end of the month to the school districts that subscribe to CABE's service.

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"One of them is the requirement that anyone who carries a weapon must be a local police officer or a retired member of the police," Mustaro said. "I think it's a step in the right direction. Clearly what happened after Newtown was a knee-jerk reaction that took over across the state."

That included some communities wanting to bring in armed security guards who were not trained as police. However, the Darien Board of Education proposed hiring six unarmed campus monitors at the middle and elementary schools. Only one -- Chris Herbert -- was hired for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year, despite the fact that Darien Board of Education Chairman Elizabeth Hagerty-Ross told the Representative Town Meeting on March 21 that whether or not it approved the appropriation, the board would find $344,000 needed to pay for upgraded security at the schools, what it believes is the No. 1 priority.

"We will find the money," Hagerty-Ross said at the March 21 RTM meeting. "Whether it's deferring library purchases, paper or books."

The remaining five monitors for the elementary schools have since been hired and will be in place in the fall.

Mustaro said for years the state has had a statute that addressed lawful police possession of a weapon in a school, but the new law is more specific.

Another change compels districts to conduct a risk-vulnerability assessment, and with the start of the 2014-15 school year annually develop and implement for each school in the district a security and safety plan based on national standards and an "all hazards" approach.

The safety plan must include a command center organization structure and requires each school employee to be trained in the new plan.

Added responsibilities will require a policy adjustment for the safe school climate committees established in 2011 as part of anti-bullying laws.

"They have beefed up the requirements for crisis drills -- both the number of them and the reporting of them," Mustaro said.

"There is brand-more new stuff in them. The Legislature continues to be very prescriptive in what it wants to see," he said, compared to years ago when school districts had more latitude.

The drills, which will be required every third month, will include parents and first responders as part of the planning. Local public safety officials will evaluate, score and provide feedback on the drills. That information will then be sent to the state.

"These are not plans that just can be put on paper. They have to be practiced with input, and there is a reporting piece as well," Mustaro said. "It's a far cry from when I was a principal and I would hold a monthly fire drill and report it to the superintendent."

Since the shooting at Sandy Hook, Darien school district has implemented changes and will address the implications of any new legislation.

"We will review the legislation this year in preparation for any changes that need to be made. We will be able to spend at least one year planning for those requirements that begin in 2014-15," Falcone said in an email to the Darien News. "We do have a District Safety Committee and I will review with them the information and hope that they can assist in helping us prepare to meet these obligations."

While the emphasis after the Newtown shooting was to prepare for an armed intruder, the law has expanded it to other hazards.

It is the hope of the district administrators that the campus monitors become ingrained within the schools to which they are assigned.

Four monitors at the high school have been in place for years, and while increasing security measures were discussed, Falcone spoke often of their importance.

They are in place to spot the first sign of an issue at a school.

During the March RTM meeting, Falcone told the members that it's not just the campus monitors who are in charge of ensuring a safe environment in the schools, but the responsibilities fall upon the shoulders of all of the teachers and other staff.

"This is our house," Falcone said.

The Legislature and state officials established a School Safety Infrastructure Council to develop safety infrastructure standards for school building projects, such as reinforcement of entry ways, ballistic glass, solid-core doors, double-door access, computer-controlled electronic locks, remote locks on all entrances and exits and buzzer systems, cameras and other devices as they become industry standards.

Staff writer Megan Spicer contributed to this report.