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School Safety Takes Center Stage at Legislature

Educators, first responders, parents, and others who testified before a new legislative task force today urged lawmakers not to make schools fortresses, but to maintain their status as warm and welcoming places of academic learning.

They acknowledged that this is a difficult balancing act in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last month. In response to that tragedy, the state legislature created the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety. Today the task force’s School Security Subcommittee held its first public hearing.

Cost associated with what’s being called the effort to “harden schools” by making them less penetrable by an assailant appeared to be on everyone’s mind. So, too, was flexibility for local school districts in addressing the complex topic of making schools safe.

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg told the subcommittee that there does not seem to be a one-size-fits-all approach to school safety. “State policymakers need to listen to ideas advanced by students, educators, parents, and others in our communities and also ensure that localities have the resources necessary to implement new practices.”

According to Waxenberg, state legislators need to utilize their capacity to create statute, policy, and new funding as swiftly as possible. In his written testimony, Waxenberg also encouraged lawmakers to examine reallocation of funds. He wrote, “Even though state dollars are limited, your work on this new state task force provides a key opportunity to reassess priorities and determine how state dollars are invested in public education.” Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton told the subcommittee that “safety should not depend on money.”

Watch Waxenberg testify before the task force on the importance of forming School Safety committees in each and every school.

Darryl Alexander, the director of the American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) Health and Safety Program, said that AFT has been working on school safety and emergency response for more than 12 years. Alexander said that the AFT has found that state legislation is not enough—it takes the commitment of every tier of society, from local government to school districts to the actual school site, to have genuine school safety that’s dynamic and effective.

“The goal is to get genuine school safety committees at every school,” said Alexander. “That means school district have to prepare a school committee that has representatives of all stakeholders—including teachers, other school staff, local emergency responders, and police. These folks need to examine templates and plans and refine them for their particular school building.”

State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor urged the subcommittee to consider the following.  “How might we fortify the school environment without creating impenetrable fortresses that are not conducive to learning, but nonetheless are safe and secure? Those are critical questions for us,” Pryor said.

Pryor said there is a long list of changes schools can consider such as the following:

  • Improvements to exterior and interior windows that create transparency and enable the visibility of threat to occur in creating such improvements.
  • Door and window improvements that likewise harden the facility and prevent some of the kind of problems that can enter into the facility.
  • Construction of schools, with the enclosure of an exterior courtyard in a way that may be invisible when you look at it casually but provides for a perimeter that may be safer.
  • Construction of corridors within a school that create even more light, even more brightness, even more warmth for students, but also create the kind of view corridor that may be necessary in order to ensure that a school is even more safe.
  • Architectural design elements that influence the walls of a schools.
  • Security infrastructure, the technological infrastructure, camera systems that can be valuable.

What do you think of these kinds of changes to schools? What is being considered at your school? Are you worried about schools becoming fortresses?

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