Students and parents voice concerns at school security forum

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Jan. 28, 2013
Student School Board members Keely Mancini and Riley Donlon shared their views on school safety and security. Photo by D. Coffey.
Student School Board members Keely Mancini and Riley Donlon shared their views on school safety and security. Photo by D. Coffey.

The Killingly Board of Education's Safety and Security Forum on Jan. 23 began with a silent three-minute video honoring the Newtown students and staff members who lost their lives on Dec. 14. In the back of the auditorium, 26 chairs were marked with green ribbons. Both served as stark reminders of a reality that's pushed itself to the forefront of discussions about the measures communities can take to safeguard their children.

The purpose of the forum was to inform parents and residents of the steps that school administrators have taken in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy and to discuss steps being considered. It was also an opportunity for parents to voice their concerns, ideas and suggestions for how to further protect students in all Killingly schools.

“We want to assure you that we're doing the best we can to protect our children,” said Chairperson Alexis Rich at the beginning of the forum. Superintendent of Schools Kevin Farr, school principals, District Resource Officer Peter Gerardi, Killingly municipal leaders and personnel from the State Police Troop D Barracks were on hand for the forum.

Gerardi began by presenting an overview of the district's emergency management system. Since Sandy Hook, reviews of all building lockdown procedures, access control systems, and visitor management systems have been initiated. Written policies, procedures and assessment of staff training are under review. Emergency teams have met to discuss school safety and security policies. The district's emergency management team attended the Connecticut School Security Symposium. Administrative office staff members have been given emergency preparedness and response training. Additional two-way radios have been given to all schools. Additional fixed and wireless panic buttons have been provided to key personnel at all schools. Dialogues have been initiated with first responders, community agency leaders and state police.

Lt. Timothy Madden, commander of the State Police Troop D Barracks in Killingly, said this jurisdiction is more prepared than most. The emergency operation plans for all Killingly schools are reviewed and revised yearly, and troopers are trained in active shooter scenarios. The proximity and influx of troopers at the barracks on Westfield Road would ensure prompt response. “We can get double digit troopers on the scene within minutes,” Madden said. Furthermore, troopers have had access cards to schools for years, and have trained in them with bomb squads, K-9 units, and SWAT teams. “We are acutely aware of the layout of the schools,” he said.

Madden praised Farr's proactive approach. “He has a background in law enforcement. He's on top of things. We're ahead of the curve,” Madden assured parents.

The presentation failed to put all parents at ease. Alvin Corey said he'd like to see state-of-the-art security systems in all Killingly schools. “We shouldn't be putting money before children. It's our moral responsibility to do the right thing,” he said.

Cindy Beckman agreed. “There's an expectation that once you are buzzed into a school, you'll go to the office,” she said. “Who's to say you'll go to the office?” she asked. “If you have a gun, you aren't going to be stopped.”

KCS PTO President Tammy Bouthilleir asked if measures taken to improve security would hurt the overall school budget, and if the state was planning to offer financial assistance.

Suggestions included posting a trooper at the school, reconfiguring school lobbies, having someone monitor video surveillance cameras, putting telephones in classrooms, having hall monitors, beefing up the presence of staff at school entrances during drop-offs and pick-ups, and making sure substitute teachers were informed of all policies and procedures from one school to another.

Farr called video surveillance a great preventative and investigative tool, but didn't foresee a staff member watching live feed. There have been no offers of state assistance, though conversations are being held about safety procedures across the state. “We need to take care of this situation and each other,” Farr said.

Several parents brought up the issue of bullying. “It's unacceptable at any level,” said Elise Majur. Dennis Alemian suggested instituting a mentoring system that might pair seniors with freshman so that the older student could watch out for the younger student.

Comments ranged from the influence of violent video games to the protection of second amendment rights.

Student board member Joshua Hayes said that he felt safe in school. “It's a safe place,” he said. “There's only so much we can do. I'd rather have a good teacher than an armed guard.”

Student board member Riley Donlon said, “You can't put a price on life. We need to protect the students, no matter the cost.”

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