School security was a primary concern for the more than 20 parents, teachers and community members who attended the Redding school board meeting Tuesday night. It was the first meeting since the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Dec. 14 that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.
Dr. Bernard Josefsberg, superintendent for Easton, Redding and Region 9 school districts, said that since Dec. 14, administrators, school officials and law enforcement have been reviewing and revising the districts’ crisis management policies for each school. He said they are still gathering information and it is an ongoing conversation.
He knows he is one member of an entire community and that decisions on school security will be made after “a range of viewpoints are weighed in on and heard,” he said.
Police Chief Douglas Fuchs, who was at Sandy Hook Elementary School helping Newtown police the morning of Dec. 14, has been working with Dr. Josefsberg and school administrators on reviewing their security policy.
“This is not the first time we’ve had this discussion,” said Dr. Josefsberg. “Planning and experience has served us well in the last month. We’re not starting from scratch.”
“There is no prescription for eradicating risk,” he said. “But we can decrease the likelihood and mitigate impact.” He told the board that they are informed by the “best thinking and practices of the law enforcement community.”
“Choices have to be made,” he said.
Decisions need to be made that come down to such details as whether window treatments or blinds need to be installed in classrooms, he said.
“How far do we go to accommodate our worst fears?” he asked.
To ensure that the conversation would continue beyond Tuesday night’s meeting, Dr. Josefsberg provided recommendations in three broad, non-specific categories.
The first category would include material steps, such as physical plant changes, taken for each building to be a secure and safe environment for learning. The second is protocol and procedures teachers and staff follow, and the third is collaborative and coordinated efforts with law enforcement.
During a security meeting with school principals, Dr. Josefsberg said, principals provided a list with areas of concern. Some items of concern included building perimeter surveillance, building access, keying, and door security, among others, he said.
Since the day of the shooting in Newtown, a police presence has been established at Redding Elementary School and John Read Middle School, but Dr. Josefsberg and Chief Fuchs would not say how long a police officer will be at the schools.
Dr. Josefsberg said he wants the police involved, but it is not his role to hire a school resource officer.
“Easton has a school resource officer and I welcome the position,” said Dr. Josefsberg.
Chief Fuchs said he would have to ask the town to hire a police officer to be in the schools.
“And I will assist [Chief Fuchs] if he chooses to,” said Dr. Josefsberg.
Kim Ajavananda, board member, attended a security meeting and said that “every adult has an important role. It is a community effort to discuss school security.”
Other board members held their comments for executive session, which continued the discussion on school security.
During the 2013-14 budget presentation when Dr. Josefsberg presented a 1.75% increase over the current year’s budget, he said there was a $135,000 expenditure for security in addition to smaller items under capital improvements.
The $135,000 is a placeholder number and could go up, said Dr. Josefsberg. It also does not include funding for a school resource officer. Chief Fuchs said money for such an officer would come from the Police Department budget.
“A school resource officer, full-time with benefits, would cost between $75,000 and $80,000,” said Chief Fuchs.
During public comment, many parents expressed their gratitude for the teachers and administrators in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Steve Massa, a parent, asked how long police presence will be in the schools or if a school resource officer will be hired.
Martha Richardson, a parent, said she supports police presence in the schools.
“It’s our responsibility to protect them [students] and it’s important to keep that in mind,” she said.
Some parents also questioned why Redding schools weren’t put on lockdown on Dec. 14, while many other area schools were. Jamie Barickman, board member, said that “maybe it would have been the right thing to do.”
Chief Fuchs said that since he was at Sandy Hook Elementary School and knew there was no direct threat to Redding schools, he advised Dr. Josefsberg not to go on lockdown, but provided police presence in schools.
No actions or decisions were taken by the board on the matter of security. It will continue to be a topic of discussion as the budget process continues, said Dr. Josefsberg.
Board Chair Jess Gaspar said the executive session was productive.
“We talked about the three categories that Dr. Josefsberg laid out earlier in his address,” said Mr. Gaspar.
“For environment and training, we look to have a conversation with First Selectman Natalie Ketcham, the Board of Selectman and Board of Finance,” he said.
The board wants to take the proposed $135,000 security expenditure for the 2013-14 budget and “accelerate that into this year’s budget and go ahead and make progress before the end of the school year,” said Mr. Gaspar.
He said it will be a continuous conversation with the Board of Selectman, Board of Finance and law enforcement.
There will be a more detailed story on the budget in next week’s Pilot.