Connecticut Schools Violate Safety Laws Put in Place After Sandy Hook
Last July, only 25 percent of Connecticut school districts submitted records for its fire drills and crisis management drills.
An investigation by a Connecticut newspaper has revealed that nearly half of the school districts in the state have violated safety laws put into place in 2013 after the Sandy Hook massacre.
Following the 2012 shooting where 20 children and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary, state legislators enacted tougher gun laws and implemented safety laws to be followed by school districts in the state.
One of the laws requires schools to submit a School Security and Safety Plan, a 30-page document developed by the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, each September. State records show nearly 100 school districts have not submitted their plan yet this year and almost 70 school districts haven’t submitted a plan in at least two years, according to the Hartford Courant.
A second requirement is that all districts must submit records of all fire drills and crisis management drills (lockdowns) by July 1. Last July, only 52 school districts submitted their records, which makes up approximately 25 percent of all school districts in Connecticut.
“If you had told me in 2013 that nearly half the school districts wouldn’t submit plans I wouldn’t have believed you,” says State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann. He is also the chairman of the legislatures Education Committee and was one of the lawmakers involved in passing the new regulations.
“What happened at Sandy Hook was so awful and horrific and parents and educators were made so very aware of risks facing students and educators that we had a sense of everyone mobilizing. I am trying to figure out what could have possibly prevented districts from doing their due diligence and submitting a plan and we will work to get that number down to zero.”
Fleishmann says a new law may have to be passed to impose penalties on school districts that don’t follow the current regulations.
“If we introduce a bill next session for penalties for leaders of school districts or the districts themselves, that would certainly get the attention of everyone who isn’t complying with the law.”
Some school districts are working to improve the safety of its schools while others seem to be completely unaware of the new requirements.
Thomas Dillon, a school security expert who has helped several Connecticut school districts develop security plans, says the number of school districts not complying with the law is shocking.
The districts Dillon has worked with include Wethersfield, East Hartford, Winsted and Sherman.
In Wethersfield, every computer in a police vehicle now has school security plans downloaded on them. The plans include schematic drawings, contact information for school officials and exits and entrances of each school.
Bristol Public Schools Superintendent Susan Moreau says she was not aware that they needed to submit security plans until recently, according to WTNH. She says they are in the midst of gathering information from the districts.
Security Grants Awarded Under New Law
The passing of the new laws also gave $42 million in security grants to Connecticut schools. To obtain these grants, towns must pay a percentage of the total cost of the project which is determined by how wealthy a community is.
Waterbury Public School District was awarded $2.3 million and is one of the few districts that has submitted all of its reports. Waterbury will be reimbursed $1.8 million by the state once all work is completed.
“With all of the investments that the state has made in improving school security, there’s no question that schools in Connecticut are safer than ever,” says Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection spokesman Scott Devico. “But there are towns that are more than likely struggling to come up with the funds to match the grant because of budget issues.”
Devico says another reason as to why schools may be behind in finishing security work is that most of it must be done during summer months and schools are fighting over the same contractors to get the work done in time.
Waterbury’s Interim Chief Financial Officer Robert Brenker says the money has been used to install more security cameras and a buzzer alarm system at each school. The district is one of 34 that has asked the state for an extension of the grant funding in order to complete started work.
Hamden Public School District has used its $2 million in grants to laminate all first-floor windows, upgrade its video security and install a key card system. The district will be expected to pay back $742,000 of the grant.
“I knew people who were killed that day as did many people in those two towns so school security is a priority,” says Hamden Superintendent Jody Goeler. “I wouldn’t know how to put together an emergency plan if I fell over one so I knew I needed to put together a team right away. We fight about a lot of things when it comes to school budgets but school safety is not one of them.”
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