Tuesday, February 19, 2008

City schools support governor's call for new school safety summit

By Gregory B. Hladky
Capitol Bureau Chief
— A second statewide conference on school safety in Connecticut that Gov. M. Jodi Rell has proposed will, for the first time, include a special focus on elementary and secondary school security.
The state’s first education safety conference followed last year’s shootings at Virginia Tech. Rell’s call for another education security summit comes in the wake of the killing spree at Northern Illinois University that left five students and the shooter dead.
“You can never do enough,” Rell spokesman Rich Harris said Monday of the need for another safety conference. “This is not an issue where you can dust off your hands and say that our schools are as safe as we can make them.”
The initial security conference was “primarily geared toward colleges and universities,” according to Harris. He added that officials from institutions of higher education also are expected to take part in the second conference, which is tentatively set for next month.
Harris said the first Connecticut summit provided some expertise to “a number of schools that implemented or updated emergency plans.” He said many colleges and universities in the state worked with local police and fire departments to establish “coordination that hadn’t existed before.”
The Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007 resulted in the deaths of 32 students and professors at the university before the shooter, Seung-hui Cho, killed himself.
Last week’s tragedy at Northern Illinois University saw Steve Kazmierczak, 27, kill five people before committing suicide.
Rell issued her call for a second Connecticut summit on school security over the weekend.
“Safer classrooms are the goal of every parent, educator and law enforcement officer, and meetings like this offer a chance to share ideas and learn what others are doing to prevent future tragedies,” Rell said.
The governor is asking the state departments of Public Safety, Education and Emergency Management and Homeland Security to coordinate the conference.
According to Rell, the conference will include experts in mental health and related fields.
“I believe we can help prevent future attacks if students and teachers are taught how to recognize when someone is becoming increasingly troubled and how to intervene effectively,” said Rell.
Catherine Sullivan DeCarlo, spokeswoman for New Haven schools, said city educators “welcome the chance to learn more about how to spot trouble signs and reach out to young people in need before a crisis happens.”
Sullivan DeCarlo said New Haven received a $494,000 grant in 2004 to update the city’s crisis preparedness planning that covered public, private and parochial school security. Since then, the city has staged three mock crisis drills at different schools. New Haven has also adopted a parent phone link notification system that allows school officials to notify parents within minutes of a crisis.
In January, Rell announced $4.9 million in grants to 203 local schools to help improve security. The funding will cover at least a portion of the cost of security cameras, entry buzzers, panic alarms, scan card systems, training and other security-related equipment and programs.
According to Rell’s staff, more than 360 Connecticut schools applied for the grants. The funding was allocated based on a security checklist filled out by each school and an evaluation by local police and fire officials. An evaluation panel composed of state experts then decided which schools would be awarded grants and how much each would get.
The largest grant was $1.3 million to help cover security improvements at 14 schools in New Britain.
In 2006, there were two major security incidents at New Britain High School. One involved a student who brought a stolen firearm to school; and the second resulted in a student being stabbed outside the high school cafeteria.
Grants to area schools included $138,991 to West Haven; $53,157 to North Branford; $12,299 to Guilford; and $5,436 to Orange.
State officials say another $5 million will be available in the coming fiscal year for another round of security grants to local schools, and Rell urged local school officials to apply for the funding.
Gregory B. Hladky can be contacted at ghladky@nhregister.com or (860) 524-0719.

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