District Works Toward Safer Schools

FAIRFIELD – The shocking and horrifying events in Newtown, Conn., last month, when Adam Lanza mercilessly and senselessly gunned down 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, left an empty void in the heart of the nation. It also left parents everywhere wondering if it could “happen here,” wherever “here” may be.

Fairfield County is no exception to those fears; and while no amount of preparation can prevent every tragedy, administrators and the school board have actually been at work for some time – long before the Newtown tragedy – to ensure the safety of Fairfield County schools.

“We didn’t wait for a tragedy to happen before we started acting,” said Board member Bobby Cunningham. “We started acting in 2010.”

Cunningham has made school safety a priority since his first day on the Board, back in November 2010. He chaired the now-defunct Safety Committee, which spearheaded vast improvements in school security, including an upgrade of the security camera system, a new key system and an agreement with the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office for Student Resource Officers (SROs).

“The cameras that were broken have been fixed,” Cunningham said. “Some have been relocated to more strategic places and we’ve added cameras to some sensitive areas.”

The District’s key system, installed last year, can track who comes and goes in and out of every building in the District, and anyone attempting to enter a school must be admitted by a monitor from the inside.

“Even I have to ring the bell to get in,” said J.R. Green, Superintendent of Fairfield County Schools. “The system we have is very good at keeping the normal intruder out of the building.”

But, as Green points out, Adam Lanza was no “normal intruder.” Instead, Lanza reportedly blasted his way into an elementary school that had a similar system in place. Installing bullet-proof glass at every school is probably not feasible, Green said, but additional SROs and advanced training for teachers and administrators is.

Right now, the District has two SROs at Fairfield Central High School and one at Fairfield Middle School full-time. When the agreement with the Sheriff’s Office was put in place a year and a half ago, these were considered to be the areas of most concern, Green said. Newtown has changed all that.

Green said that the District is looking at placing an SRO at every elementary school in the district, over the long-term. In the immediate future, he said, the District will consider staffing schools with off-duty deputies or retired officers. Green also said that the Sheriff’s Office plans to include teachers and staff in next month’s scheduled “Active Shooter Training.”

Beth Reid, Chairwoman of the Fairfield County School Board, said the subject of security will be on the agenda at the Board’s upcoming retreat, which will be held at the District Office Saturday starting at 9:30 a.m.

“We want to be proactive,” Reid said. “We’re going to talk about what we can do to make people feel confident that schools are the safest place they can send their children.”

The District has accomplished a lot since 2010, Cunningham said – new and improved cameras, an upgraded key system, better lighting and landscaping, and schools that can be placed on lockdown at a moment’s notice. The results have been tangible, he said. Since 2010, Cunningham estimated that drug, alcohol and weapons violations are down more than 90 percent. But more can be done and should be done, he added.

While the District works to enhance security measures, Green said he feels no hesitation in sending his children off to school each day.

“As sad as the Newtown tragedy is, schools are, statistically speaking, very safe,” Green said. “I don’t want people to lose sight of that. As a parent, I feel very confident that my children are safer at school than they are at the mall.”

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